Octurbo: Strider Hiryu

Strider probably requires no introduction at this point, given how often Capcom's acrobatic side-scroller comes up in Giant Bomb content, especially when @gvaranini is around. Strider was a 1989 hit in the Arcades before being brought to a whole bunch of home consoles. The non-linear NES version is the only truly divergent one; the others, like the Genesis and this PC Engine CD-ROM2 version, try to be as close to the original Arcade game as possible. Obviously, the CD-ROM format makes that a bit easier in some way, but then there's only so much the TurboGrafx-CD's tech could squeeze out regardless of the vast amount of storage space that CDs offer. If anything, the PC Engine CD-ROM2 port is probably less technologically sophisticated than the Genesis version.

The reason for Strider Hiryu's inclusion, beyond me wanting to play more Strider, is that it was a title in the "Arcade Card" range for the Turbo-CD. The system actually saw two RAM expansions in its lifetime; the first, the "Super CD-ROM Card", was required for most games produced after 1992, which was when the TurboDuo launched with its improved internal RAM. Anyone with an older PC Engine CD/Turbo-CD had to purchase a new system card with additional RAM to play these new TurboDuo-focused games. The Arcade Card came a little later, and was meant to provide enough additional RAM to allow near-perfect Arcade conversions. It's a bit of a cheeky lie, since the core TurboGrafx-CD processors and graphics cards couldn't hope to keep up with the Arcade games of the early 90s, but that extra boost of RAM (and having the redbook music and voice samples of the CD format) still helped a little. There's more to cover too, but we'll get into it with the screenshots.

Here You Go Again With the Strider Talk

Now I get a good look at the bad guy, I suspect I know where Amped 3 found their villain.
These are the Striders, who fight to keep the world free of villainy. Except for that one guy who joined up to get a free laser sword.
I didn't quite capture this right, but Hiryu flashes across the screen and cuts Robey in twain. Mission over?
Welcome to Strider Hiryu! "Strider Hiryu" is what the game is called in Japan region. It's just Strider here, but they usually leave the Hiryu kanji in the title screen. (Hiryu means Flying Dragon, if you're wondering. There's one in Final Fantasy IV, if I recall.)
So this is the other reason I wanted to show off Strider today. The PC Engine CD-ROM port took a long time coming, almost five years after the original Arcade game, but they did manage to squeeze in an additional stage entirely exclusive to this version. What's cool is that the game lets you decide whether or not to add the new stage in, in case you wanted to make the Arcade experience more "genuine".
This is Russia, the first stage. Hiryu swoops in shortly after this shot on his robo-hangglider.
This thing. I'm not sure why it needs a lamp at the front seeing as the entire fortress is lit up with its spotlights, but maybe they just needed to put something there for ballast.
Hiryu's main weapon is his Cipher (i.e. plasma sword) which is also called a Falchion. I think that might be the name of his particular Cipher. Maybe it's like how you give your gun a name? "Falchion" is better than "Charlene" at least.
This is the other thing Strider's mostly known for: mid-air handstands. Strider's acrobatics is what helped to set it apart from the crowd, as Hiryu can literally hold onto any solid surface. It even pops up in boss fights, as we'll see momentarily.
In addition to his Falchion, Strider can find these little robot friends. They mostly follow along and add to his firepower, occasionally hitting enemies outside of the Falchion's range (one of Strider's bigger issues is that you can't attack up or down easily).
Man, I just love that anyone can do this. I'd be rolling down this incline face-first in his position.
Flat-top mocks us in Japanese before starting this stage's mid-boss fight. I don't know what he says, but it's probably Russian (via Japanese) for "Go home and be a family man!".
Of course, once the shirt comes off and the battle begins, it's over almost instantly. The Falchion can do an absurd amount of damage because of how quickly Hiryu is able to swing it. The trick with most boss fights is getting close enough to use it.
We get napalmed after blondie bites it, but there's a little gap here to hide from it. It's one of those cases where playing the game before really helps.
I just find Strider effortlessly cool, even today. I can't even imagine how badass this seemed in 1989. They can't hit you from up there, but you've got ample room to find a way up.
It's easy to miss, but another one of Strider's robotic little buddies is this crow. Useful for those floating drones, since they can hover over your head and be a mischief.
I don't have anything to say about this pic other than I somehow captured Hiryu's "haters gonna hate" walk perfectly.
These things are common enough in some Strider games: computers that just sit there and need destroying, but spit out lasers and other projectiles that make it harder to reach them.
Richard Dreyfus doesn't like our intrusion, so he does what any reasonable soldier would do.
Which is merge with the rest of Russian congress to form a giant centipede robot with a hammer and sickle. The literal dictionary definition of the word "perestroika".
Anyway, this is one of those bosses that tries to chase you around but is far too cumbersome for its own good. If you run up here, it eventually stops chasing you and circles back around. You can then actually leap on its back and start pummeling the head with your Falchion.
I don't know if these little Stage Cleared screens are in the Arcade version, but man is it satisfying to see your opponent just completely smashed to pieces like this.
The goon in charge somehow lives, and presumably screams something in Japanese about how the next boss will getcha. It's also a bit more apparent now that he's not human, what with the giant hole in his cranium.
Here it is, the bonus stage. It fits in between Hiryu's Mission to Moscow and the Arcade game's Stage 2, which is in Siberia. Seems a bit of a stretch to assume Hiryu would go to Moscow, then some desert presumably in Africa somewhere, and then back to Russia again. But hey, when you shoehorn in a stage, it's going to mess with continuity a little bit.
The desert stage isn't all that bad, for an insert. For instance, it establishes early on that you don't want to be on the sand for too long because of all these giant sandworms.
If you can't walk without rhythm, then the best thing to do is simply not touch the ground.
Ed Harris mocks you for a little while once you make your way up this hill.
And then he starts to spin around and does this. It's very peculiar.
Turns out he's secretly this giant antlion. What is it with me and antlions recently? He'll pull you down and there's no easy way to attack him here without getting hurt yourself (and you have a very minimal health bar).
However, and apropos of nothing, he'll occasionally leap right out of his hole to let you unload on him for a little while. It's certainly courteous of him.
Perhaps a little too courteous, even.
I like the attention to detail they gave this stage. This four-point star logo appears a lot on other stages. It'd be an easy detail to miss.
Remember that weird part of The Rock where Sean Connery has to recall a memorized sequence past all these completely incongruous flame traps while inside a vent? Dunno why I just thought of it.
This guy just drives right at you as soon as you drop down this cliff. I have no idea how he expects to stop that thing before he hits the wall. At any rate I just jumped over it and took out the gunner.
This smug dick mocks you, like every other boss, before leaping into his tank. At least it's not some weird bug robot this time.
The tank looks intimidating, and has various means to attack you but...
...standing at the bottom right negates all of them. Neither turret can turn around to hit you, and the missiles it fires overhead always stop short of that side of the screen.
Most vehicles have their blindspots, I guess.
Apparently unscathed, dude tells us that there's an even bigger tank in Hiryu's future. "You thought I was compensating for something, bucko?"
We also get mocked by the big bad too. Is he supposed to be a warlock? I'll admit that I forget a lot of the Strider lore.
Big Bad Grand Master also introduces a guy that any Strider fan should recognize. Solo is a very persistent cybernetic bounty hunter that shows up in every Strider game. He's usually flying a lot too, which is why I tend to think of him as this series' Ridley.
Anyway, now that Stage 2 (well, 3) begins proper and I have a pack of Siberian wolves running at me, might be time to call it a day. The rest of Strider is pretty much the same as the Arcade port, weird gravity rooms and all.

That's Strider Hiryu for the PC Engine CD-ROM2. Possibly due to how late it came out in the system's life cycle, it was never ported to the US TurboGrafx-CD. A shame, because it doesn't seem like a particularly bad port, and gives fans of the series that extra level to play with. Then again, they'd probably be happier with the Genesis home version all told.

Still, at least the soundtrack's pretty good. Thanks for checking in (it's been a hell of a day around here) and shout outs once again to Game Cop.

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Octurbo: Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams

On today's Octurbo, we're going to look at a game far less stupid. Well, maybe not far less. It's Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, the originator of another strange but fairly well-regarded shoot 'em up franchise that saw its first home release on the TurboGrafx-CD. Remarkably, despite being a very Japanese "cute 'em up", both the Arcade and TGCD versions saw US releases. That's unfortunately less true for the many Cotton games that followed, many of which are considered some of the better shoot 'em ups for the PS1, Sega Mega Drive and Sega Saturn and these days come with the sort of legendary price tags you'd see on other Sega shoot 'em ups like Radiant Silvergun.

As for the plot of Cotton, the player is a purple-haired witch on a mission. A mission to eat as much candy as possible, and perhaps take down an eldritch horror or two if they happen to get between her and her sugar cravings. As would eventually become the case for many Touhou games, the player's "ship" is simply Cotton herself on a magical broom -- though she's unfortunately a rather large target, given the size of her sprite, so there's no clever tiny hitbox dodging here. Also, unlike Cotton's cutesy saccharine sequels, this game can be... well, kind of dark. Well, I guess we'll find that out soon enough. (Props also to the music! I don't know if rockin' guitars fit this magical witch girl game as well as they do something like Rondo of Blood or Lords of Thunder, but I'm not complaining.)

I'm Starting to Cotton Onto Turbo-CD's Anime Weirdness, But Not Onto Finding Better Puns

Welcome to Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams! Or Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton! Either's probably fine!
The opening story reveals that the world was suddenly plunged into permanent night and that everyone's kind of bummed out about it. Well, except Cotton, who is kind of drowsy right now from a lack of blood sugar.
A fairy beseeches Cotton to use her magical talents to remove the mist that plagues the dreamworld and restore all the sunshine and rainbows and-
Nah.
However, it's only when the fairy mentions Cotton's favorite candy is in some way involved that she starts paying attention.
We have ourselves an accord, it seems.
Cotton's a shoot 'em up of the horizontal bent. It's also kind of weird. What's with that creepy moon?
As well as the usual waves of enemies, you occasionally bump into instances like this weirdo here. The rotating rocks appear to be invincible, so you can either attack the core or just try to avoid them.
Enemies drop these crystalline power-ups which can be shot at to cycle through their colors, like the bells in TwinBee. Red and blue give you one-off beams of death (in both fire and lightning varieties, respectively), while yellow and orange ones increase Cotton's experience bar. All going up levels does is increase the strength of Cotton's standard fireballs, but she levels down every time she loses a life, which makes holding onto these upgrades fairly tough.
These circular power-ups (the thing at the bottom middle of the screen) upgrade your bombs instead, which roll along the ground like in Gradius. A lot of the more annoying enemies tend to hang out at ground level, so -- in the words of Big Jeffrey -- drop 'em.
This nightmarish Waddle Doo is super annoying with that eye laser. You can't dodge it, and it arcs upwards to catch you unawares.
This weird thing from the Chronicles of Riddick movie is the first boss. As well as these green shots fired from a part of its anatomy that I don't want to think about too much, it'll also stomp the ground and make the screen all "Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy" for a few moments.
After each boss, you have an opportunity to grab as much cash as possible. Far as I can tell, the only reason to earn points are for bonus 1-Ups.
I have no idea what Cotton's fairy is named, so we'll just call her Princess Pandering. We're just tallying up points here before the next level.
Cotton finds the first candy, which she calls "Willows" for some reason. That's, uh, quite the expression.
The fairy informs her that she needs to collect all seven Willows, at which point they turn into a bigger one? And Cotton buys it.
We're back to flying eyeballs and this weird little nymph who jumps up and sends music notes out in every direction. These murder Cotton instantly if she hits one, so it can't be very good music. Oh wait, maybe these are mandragora then? Or womandragora? I'm just going to shoot fireballs at it and not worry about correct nomenclature.
These weird little acorn/Daruma guys are adorable. If you shoot the pile, the guys at the bottom fly out and have to run back to the top again. I just flew over it.
Holy crap these clouds creep me the eff out. They're loving the abuse.
Here's this stage's mid-boss, which appears to be a tree from Mortal Kombat filling in for Whispy Woods. All it does it spit out seeds that turn into little tree monsters, but these seeds can appear right on top of you.
It gets even creepier looking after it explodes, but this stage isn't going to stop with the heebie-jeebies any time soon.
Now it's graveyard time, and the worst enemy type yet. Zombies throw their heads at you and the heads are super effective at homing in on wherever Cotton appears to be. They eventually stop moving and plummet out of the sky, but if you're underneath it when this happens you're pretty much boned. It's when you're dodging two or three of these at once that it starts becoming untenable.
This Grim fellow is our next boss. Initially, he just fires homing missiles at you.
Eventually he does this. Now there's a whole bunch of flying crap to watch out for. Fortunately, the flying hands go down after a few volleys. The skull takes a bit more firepower to destroy.
And then he decides to do this. Yuckers.
Now that is the expression of someone who has finally lost all semblance of sanity. Only five more stages to go!
Probably best I call this one before any more nightmare fuel shows up.

Cotton's a decent little shoot 'em up, and another one of those games that forces me to question whether the genre is inherently hard as balls or if I just suck at them. It is shockingly easy for Cotton to fly off her little broom while making dumb noises, and it was only through liberal use of the save state key that I was able to make it this far. I really don't care for the "power-down when you die" rule that these games tend to exhibit, because most enemies require a few seconds of constant fire before they explode and making the game considerably harder every time I die is not how you do difficulty curves. The constant downgrading is why I didn't much care for Cave Story either (well, that and its abstruseness).

It's certainly not bad though. I hear the 1999 PS1 port Cotton Original is the definitive version, because it takes the music from this game and the graphics from the Arcade original, which seems like a smart way to do a late port. And talking of the music...

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Octurbo: Minesweeper

No doubt a veritable jeopardy (the appropriate collective noun) of questions is flooding your mind right now. Allow me to employ my heretofore concealed telepathic powers and publicly reveal a few of them:

  1. Why is Mento talking about that old Windows game that's on every PC?
  2. Wait, why did Minesweeper get a Turbo-CD release?
  3. Why is it Japan only?
  4. Why that boxart?
  5. Why anything?
  6. Oh god I just woke up and I'm covered in blood. Nothing makes sense any more! Why did I kill them?!

I can help with the first four, a little. Minesweeper is an adaptation of the famous built-in PC game with a few, let's say, "fun" additions. Despite the inherent weirdness in this package, I've seen this happen enough times to a somewhat similarly-themed game by the name of Battleship. Many video game adaptations (and one movie adaptation, but let's not dwell on that) have tried over and over to glam up and intensify the Battleship format, presenting the armed naval conflict game in as many varied realistic and dramatic ways as possible. Sometimes the original board game ceases to be recognizable after the changes, becoming interchangeable with any number of submarine torpedo sims. With that frame of reference, a slightly more elaborate take on Minesweeper is explicable enough.

Then again, we are talking about a Japan-only CD-based adaptation here. I'm convinced that some of the more interesting games in the TGCD library were the odd PC game conversions (@arbitrarywater and the weird Dungeon Master remix I recently Octurbo'd helped sell me on that), but it's possible I might've just skipped ahead to the weirdest case of them all with this one.

I Was Saving This One For Sweeps, But

Welcome to Minesweeper! That beefy arm looks really good, coming out of the bow of the ship there.
This game has modes of course, because there's so many ways to play Minesweeper. Most of these modes still involve mines and sweeping for them, though. Well, all of them do.
The play mode just lets you assign the difficulty and have at it. Yep. Basic ol' Minesweeper.
I dunno if you know the rules to Minesweeper, but in order to win you have to mark the... oh, you already knew? Cool.
Let's try this voyage mode instead. Already I appear to have messed up. They haven't let me see a board yet!
The Great Voyage is more of a story-based mode, where you move from one region of the world to the next solving ever more complex Minesweeper grids.
It also has this neat nautical theme. Instead of flags, you leave little skull-and-crossbones.
What's weird is that they changed the mines to explosive barrels. I mean, the original mine icon already looked like the nautical "spiky ball" type of mine.
Anyway, The Great Voyage starts getting serious fairly quickly. Let's try out those other modes.
This... I'm not sure this is cool, game.
Cook gives you a long exposition in high-pitched Japanese about why he's (she's?) risking his life for treasures. The singular video I managed to find of this game translates what he's (she's?) saying, if you want to check it out at the end of this article.
Cook's Quest is kind of a dungeon-crawler with multiple paths using standard Minesweeper rules. Instead of clearing out each screen, though, you just want to reach the exit (that little door) as quickly as possible. That big boulder at the top of the screen is inching ever closer to poor little Cook, so time is of the essence.
Specifically, we're looking for five gems (actually Dragon eggs). There's not nearly enough time to do so, even if you're the greatest Minesweeper ever to have (cautiously) walked the Earth, so you need to take the occasional detour for these timer reset power-ups.
This mode presents a lot of interesting puzzles with the way it shapes each room. For instance, this one seems impossible until you think about it a little.
Might as well show Edit Mode. This one just lets you set the perimeters, giving you a sense of how big the final grid will be and how much of it will be filled with mines.

Well, I can't say they didn't try to do something interesting with this ubiquitous little puzzle game. Oh right! I forgot to say who developed this game. It was Arc System Works, the developers behind Persona 4 Arena and Guilty Gear. Yeah, those guys. We all had to start somewhere, I guess (though this is like their tenth game). The Japan-only version that was released on Game Boy was made by the same team too, though it had fewer modes.

It's all pretty weird, but I guess the addictiveness of Minesweeper explains why it's been added to every version of Windows, and I suppose it's natural people would want to play it on other systems. Hell, you can get Tetris and Solitaire on almost everything with a microchip in it. At least the Cook's Quest mode made a Tobal 2 RPG-type stab at an alternate way to play the game.

Did I really just write an Octurbo entry for Minesweeper?

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Octurbo: Exile

Remember how Assassin's Creed had a fairly controversial premise? Setting up a protagonist that was a Middle Ages Muslim assassin fighting the encroaching western Crusaders and the Knights Templar who were in some way tied to ancient deities and a modern day conspiracy? Well, it turns out that Telenet Japan beat them to the punch by almost twenty years.

Exile is actually ZXR II, the sequel to a Japan-only computer game about a Middle Eastern assassin named Sadler who confronts a corrupt Caliph, takes down a bunch of Buddhist/Hindu deities and then travels through time to murder the present-day Russian and US presidents for some reason. The story doesn't get any less weird in this sequel, either. This game has so much religion, politics, drugs and violence that Nintendo of America would've had a conniption fit, which is probably why it was only localized for the Genesis and TurboGrafx-CD. The latter version was translated by Working Designs, one of the better localization teams of the 16/32-bit era, and given the excellent redbook audio and voiced cutscenes would appear to be the version to play if you don't understand Japanese. Apparently, the original home computer version for MSX/PC-88/PC-98 is a little longer, including a whole sequence where Sadler travels through modern NYC's subway fighting skateboarders and zombies.

It's certainly a game that piqued my interest. Fortunately, it's one of the better games I've covered this Octurbo too, employing a system not unlike ActRaiser or Ys III with side-scrolling action stages and more sedate overhead RPG areas where the player can restock on supplies and talk to NPCs to progress the story. But there's no need to take my word for it, because I've got a whole bunch of pictures for you all.

In a Grocery Store and Want Omelette Ingredients? Try the Exile

This is another game like Last Alert where the opening voiceover is incredible. It's not Engrish-y as hell like so many others have been, but the VA's delivery is something else.
The game basically sets up the events of the previous ZXR, or at least the less crazy parts, by explaining that religion has been used a tool by tyrants for centuries. The Caliph, here, was a particularly despotic example.
How many of these games have sepia-toned battle scenes, anyway? I suspect it's a Telenet Japan thing, given we only just saw it yesterday with Valis II.
Anyway, the Caliph gets himself assassinated for being a colossal dick to everyone.
Arabian Spike Spiegel here is our protagonist. He's also an assassin and, I guess, time-traveler. No idea where you'd get cigarettes in the 12th century, but as long as it looks cool the writers don't care.
The peace doesn't last of course, as the "Clispin" crusaders start showing up.
Oh gross, he just sneezed on this poor woman's back. These guys are jerks too! Surrounded by jerks!
The Templar boss is pondering how the world could be united in peace under one God, when suddenly a creepy voice mocks him from the shadows. Who could it be?
Well, I have no idea. The title screen just pops up right after that. Welcome to Exile! I hope you're not expecting any answers.
We start in our little assassin town of Assassi. It's subtle, that's for sure. They'll never think to look for murderers here.
Of course we have a love interest with purple hair who looks like a teenager. Just because this is the Middle Ages, doesn't mean it's still not anime.
So Rumi's our first recruited party member, but the game doesn't really do the RPG party thing. You'll see.
I'm... just going to leave this guy be. He sounds hungover.
Sadler starts out with Bat's gear (no cowls or Batarangs though), but we're given a suspiciously large amount of starting money.
I buy Sadler some Hemp gear (only 420 GP) and have enough left over for a better sword and shield.
While I'm looking around menus, might as well save the game. Gotta love saving anywhere (though I didn't think to check while playing the upcoming action stage).
I dunno, it seems all right so far. Old dudes love complaining I suppose. In my day, people didn't complain nearly so often and we were better for it, I reckon.
I'm at the Tonic store now and... what the hell is a Somnifacient? Is that something you take to stop sleepwalking? I don't want any weird and potentially harmful drugs, so I'll just buy that cocaine instead.
My goal, as Rumi explained as she ran up to me, is to go investigate some suspicious looking characters over in the desert. The eyewitness isn't being too helpful, though. I mean, which is it?
The guard is impressed by my party. What he actually means is that he won't let me through without extra help. Took me a while to figure this one out.
That weird guy making grumbling noises? That's Kindhy, a mighty warrior who apparently instructed Sadler in the martial arts. However, he doesn't actually say anything intelligible ever, so maybe Sadler just figured stuff out on his own.
The other party member is this guy, Fakhyle. He's a mage, but a lazy one that tends to wander off to go nap in weird places.
Finally content that I have enough weirdos following me around, the guard lets me go into the desert.
This is like a setting up area. I have to use the Map to travel to my next destination, but I can mess around with my equipment before setting off.
I'm ready to go, so we're off to check out the desert. On the other side of the continent. Really?
Well, we're at the oasis. I suspect this isn't a real oasis.
It's not. It's an antlion trap. Those antlions get me every damn time, I swear.
And Exile suddenly becomes this. These sequences are pretty similar to ActRaiser's action stages, as previously stated. I have a big Ys-like health bar that starts mostly empty but fills up the more I kill stuff.
"Stuff" in this case would include a bunch of Earth Defense Force creepy-crawlies. These dragonfly assholes in particular just fly in from nowhere at incredible speeds.
WHY WOULD I EVER DRINK THAT
Sadler finally makes it to a cave full of skeletons. "Ohhhh!" he says. I don't know if that means he's surprised or if he just figured something out.
This is the Antlion, the game's first boss. It's no pushover, popping out to poke you in the face with its pincers before dropping below the earth before you can get a retaliatory hit in.
I eventually figure out that there's a few platforms to the right, and from here I can leap down and hit the antlion with this downslash attack. It's a lot safer than staying on the ground. Worth noting: when fighting a boss that travels underground, Tremors rules apply.
Eventually its head falls off and the rest of the body explodes, which is normal for antlions as any entomologist would tell you. No big fanfare or anything, nor do I get my health back.
Still, I'm fairly sure this is the exit. I'm home free, at last.
Oh for crying out loud...
Yeah, let's just call a Mulligan here and try again.
Sadler eventually finds a corpse at the back of the cave. Mission success?
He's holding a message from the Templars. Clearly, this was the suspicious man I was sent to locate.
Yuug D'Payne, when not spitting rhymes for Death Row Records, is the leader of the Templar Knights. He's based on a real historical figure: the actual Grand Master of the Templars, Hugues de Payans. The localization team was given instructions to change any real names to avoid controversy, however.
We're off to Homis Shrine next. It's for homies only, so I know this Yuug guy just wants to bro out.
Yeah, no thanks to you guys. You didn't think to get some rope or something? There were giant bugs down there!
Rumi seems skeptical about conversing with the Knights Templar, given how they're currently murdering and enslaving anyone who happens to look vaguely Middle Eastern, but Sadler's determined to see what he wants.
El-In is where Homis Shrine resides, so I guess we'll be going there next. I did earn a bit of money from beating up all those bugs, but not quite enough to afford the next set of equipment. This Octurbo entry is already long enough though so let's call it here.

I continue being intrigued by this game, after playing it a little. The action stage controlled well and gave me a run for my money with that tricky boss. I don't doubt I'd have died several times in there without that starting money (and the save state button, if I'm being honest). Everything else about the presentation is impressive too, especially given that this game came out in 1991. The localized script is competent (which counts for a lot in this era) and the music's catchy. The boss fight music in particular reminded me of the boss music from Plok, though maybe that's a stretch. I do like Plok's music a whole lot.

Honestly, though, if I were to keep playing it would be to see where the story's going. I've already gotten the Cliff Notes version from the HardcoreGaming101 article on the series, but it sounds wild enough that I'd like to see it for myself. Exile saw a TGCD sequel that was also localized and released in the US, so maybe we aren't quite done with this series just yet.

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Octurbo: Valis II

If Bonk is the mascot for the HuCard era TurboGrafx-16, then Yuko of the Valis series may well be the CD equivalent. Developed by Telenet Japan, which would become one of the more prolific developers working on the TurboGrafx-CD via their CD-focused subsidiary LaserSoft, the first Valis game was originally released in 1986 for various Japanese home computers. It took a genre of anime that was known as "magical girl", established largely by mega-popular animes like Sailor Moon, and adapted the format into an action game, presenting the tale of an everyday student named Yuko who is forced to take up the titular magical Sword of Valis and fight supernatural monsters before whisked to a dreamlike world named Vecanti to combat the King commanding the beasts, Rogles (pronounced "rogueless"). Though the game itself was fairly basic (and, well, bad) the focus on scantily-clad heroines fighting monsters with a narrative told via anime-style cutscenes was fairly novel for 1986 and helped endear Valis to a generation of Japanese gamers. Valis was eventually ported to the PC Engine, and its sequels would all find a home on the PC Engine CD-ROM2. Two of them even eventually make their way over to the American TurboGrafx-CD: Valis II and Valis III. I'll be playing the former today.

Valis II is one of the earliest CD-ROM games and, unlike Fighting Street (which was a mediocre port of an already mediocre Arcade game) or No.Ri.Ko (which was barely a video game), is a fully-fledged action game specifically created for the PC Engine CD-ROM2 console. It continues right where the first game ended, dropping Yuko into another conflict on Vecanti brought about due to the power vacuum left after slaying Rogles, instigated by Rogles' older brother Megas. What's odd is that Valis II is actually one of two games with that name: The other was released shortly afterwards on the many Japanese home computers that carried the original. It's hard to say which one is "canonical", as Telenet sourced out both games to separate subsidiaries, but most tend to go with the TurboGrafx-CD version because it came first.

Man, that's one heck of a history lesson. Really, Valis II is a game where you're a schoolgirl in a Wonder Woman outfit hitting giant monsters and weird cybernetic Dragon Ball Z rejects with a sword until they explode. I didn't mean to make it sound any more high-brow than that.

Is the Plural of Valis, Valii? Would That Make Valis' Numerous Heroines "Valii Girls"?

Ah, at last: An anime portrait that accurately depicts who I am, where I'm from, and my passing interest in falconry.
Valis II starts with the climactic duel between Yuko (blue-hair) and Reiko (purple-hair) near the end of the first game. Actually, I think it might just be a flashback. Or a dream. Look, they haven't told me much yet.
Reiko bites it, but she was mind-controlled into being evil so it's very sad.
And this guy suddenly shows up from behind some rubble. You mind, fellah? I'm trying to have a moment with my dead friend here.
It's Megas! Or maybe Starscream? Or anime cyberpunk Tutankhamun?
Welcome to Valis II! Already the anime inscrutability factor is way up there.
Yuko, who has returned to the real world (that's what she calls it, seems kind of dismissive of Vecanti to me), is beset by monsters looking for her Sword of Valis. Maybe she should've stashed that in a rock or something, like Link.
The monster general guy in charge of the invasion actually explains to his minions that they're all pretty much boned trying to fight the slayer of their former king, but apparently needs must. Their expert strategy is to march single file directly into the sword's deadly magic missiles. Maybe they think Yuko will tire herself out?
It hasn't gone well for the first dozen or so guys, but maybe the situation will improve for the next identical goon.
Enemies frequently drop these crystals behind. I'm not sure what they do, precisely. Maybe they're just points? This game does have those for some reason.
This blue guy (who looks like a background character from Beast Wars) is a little tougher than the rest. It's almost impossible to jump over him with Yuko's pathetic hop, so I just sat in a corner swinging and hoping for the best. Tactics!
There are two types of power-up in this game. This is an example of the consumable kind, which can be activated whenever needed (or is just used accidentally, since it only requires you press Up to activate them). This particular one creates blue orbs that whirl around Yuko, giving her some extra defense.
Here's the other kind of power-up. These just change how my sword's bullets (that's a dumb phrase) behave and are permanent, at least until I pick up a different one. In this particular case, they become homing missiles.
Um, so I guess I'm just supposed to leap down this big hole in the subway then?
Yep, apparently. The level design in Valis II isn't particularly complex. In fact, it's even more linear than in the 1986 original. Just go forward.
I picked up a spread shot. Seemed like a good idea, given how good it is in Contra. This spread shot only goes in two directions though, making its usefulness somewhat limited.
Though perhaps I could've held onto it for this flying mid-boss. Still, how was I to know? It's those axes in Castlevania all over again.
When you finally get to the end of the stage, this big alert klaxon goes off and we get the vital statistics of our next foe. What, no blood type?
It doesn't come across in screenshots, obviously, but the voice acting in this game is really something. It's Last Alert bad. I'll have to include a sample at the end of this article.
As bosses go, this guy isn't particularly challenging. You just stand over here and jump over his red sonic booms. It helps I have some sonic booms of my own.
Finally, we make it to Vecanti and Yuko puts on her entirely impractical chainmail bikini and mini-skirt. You know, monster-fighting apparel.
Reiko's here too, but apparently she's now a ghost or something. A ghost with a whole lot of exposition, it turns out. She explains how Megas, a powerful warlord who has been trapped for centuries, is trying to wipe out the remnants of Rogles' army. Isn't that a good thing? Enemy of an enemy?
I guess one side is more monsterish than the other. All right, you won me over. Who needs slashing?
These guys? You got it. Man, the outfits in this game are ridiculous. I'd disparage the skimpy armor Yuko is wearing, but I think she got the better end of the deal attire-wise.
Speaking of which, we now have costumed Yuko in Vecanti for the rest of the game. The level design might get more interesting from here on out, but probably not.

That'll be all from Valis II for today. While of historical note, it's not a particularly riveting gameplay experience, though I suppose there's still a lot more going on here than there was in my No.Ri.Ko playthrough (though it did also include a trip to a bizarre alternate dimension). I hear the two TGCD sequels get a lot better as the series evolved, though it's still mostly the same sort of affair. Not quite Castlevania, or even Ghouls N' Ghosts, but a fairly competent and acceptable horror-themed action game.

Though I recognize "competent and acceptable" doesn't make for good LPs. I'll have to dig deep for something a little more compelling next time. Or just more anime nonsense. Either's fine with me.

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Octurbo: Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest

From Dungeon Exploring to Dungeon Mastering in just four days! We're making great progress on Octurbo this year. Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest is one of a number of adaptations of FTL Games's seminal CRPG classic, but this particular 1992 release really flies off the rails in comparison with the more faithful SNES adaptation released the year prior. Many aspects of this game confound me, though at the same time it's kind of neat to see a game I'm very familiar with get chopped and screwed like this.

The handful of folk who read these things might recall that I covered Dungeon Master some time ago in a multi-part Brief Jaunt. I stopped short of a full LP only because I was running out of ways to say "and then you press this hidden button for the next key", though mostly it was because I couldn't bear dealing with the terrifying purple worms of the fourth floor. That's when the gloves come off and shit gets real, as it were, and the game demands you put together a stronger team for the travails to come. Which essentially means "keep repeating actions over and over to go up levels for the necessary HP and stat boosts", since Dungeon Master was one of the first games to introduce a system of progression where skills increase the more you do them. Anyway, I'm getting off track. I'd suggest reading that Brief Jaunt LP first, because I'm going to be focusing on the changes made to that original version with this bizarre remix.

I Always Thought Dungeon Master Could've Used More Anime Cutscenes

We open on this idyllic scene. Winter has passed and with it comes a glorious new Spring of possibilities. I've already forgotten all the generic fantasy names for this world, so we'll just say this is Wales.
As what happens in every Welsh springtime, the people praise the powers that be with a festival filled with dancing and merriment.
A statue of the revered Welsh deity, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is paraded through the town square by all the young men who have come of age. Yes, Wales has Matsuri parades and costumes. Don't question it. You ever been to Wales? I have, so be quiet.
Poor old Theron had to miss out on his coming of age ceremony, however, because he was too busy saving a lamb from a swamp. No, literally.
See? Also I should've just presented this image without context because it's sort of amazing.
One day the Gray Wizard of Wales, Sir Anthony Hopkins, descends on this tiny village to find a volunteer to help assemble the mystical Armor of Taza, which was dismantled by seven evil beings and the pieces spirited away to their lairs.
Theron decides he needs to prove himself after the whole sorry sheep/swamp affair, and nobly volunteers for a task that has killed everyone who has so far set out to complete it. Don't worry, he has the power of androgyny on his side.
"This isn't Quest Difficult, Mr. Theron, this is Quest Impossible."
Welcome to Theron's Quest! It's a game about winning the Oscar for "Monster". Nah, I wish.
So immediately I'm confused and infuriated. Multiple dungeons? What is this? These are some cool names at least.
It turns out that they broke up the game into seven smaller dungeons, mixing in a few areas from the expansion pack Chaos Strikes Back for good measure. Ak-Tu-Ba is the tutorial dungeon, I'm assuming, because it was the only one I was allowed to pick.
Yeah, that's great and all, but how am I supposed to get up there?
So now the game begins and everything starts to look cosy and familiar again. Well, as cosy as a bunch of cold, gray walls can be, anyway.
Theron is your default first champion and the only character who retains his skill levels from dungeon to dungeon, I've read. He's actually quite capable, fortunately.
You can resurrect three champions (prior heroes who died performing this quest) to join you. They're all absurdly powerful too, for what's supposed to be the first area of the game. Unlike Theron, they won't get any stronger, because they're all technically dead. (Wait, Pentai?)
Holy crap, this guy is a Lo Master ninja and priest (Lo, that arrow symbol, is the lowest power for spells -- each level afterwards is one symbol higher). To put things in perspective, you can beat Dungeon Master handily without ever reaching any of the Master experience levels. The far more difficult Chaos Strikes Back does require a bit more effort, though.
Anyway, I have three overpowered champions to help me beat a bunch of first-floor monsters. My goal is to fetch the first piece of the armor set, the Shield Defiant, and return it to this Vi Altar. Vi Altars in the original game were purely for resurrecting dead heroes (there is in fact another Vi Altar just next to this one for that very purpose).
What's so weird is that this is the tutorial, so I'm being taught all the basics despite the fact I'm walking around with world destroyers. Even Theron, who has no experience outside of ovine observation, is the game's equivalent of level 3 in all four disciplines. You'd be lucky to find a hero that powerful when starting Dungeon Master.
Since I'm finding clothes all over the place, the first thing I'm doing is giving the barbarian a damn shirt. This isn't a Boris Vallejo painting, Fabio.
This is a Screamer Fungus. It's the weakest monster in the game, and an early source of food in the original Dungeon Master. I'm about to fireball it, simply because I can. I'd turn it inside out if I could remember the spell runes.
I don't imagine this first dungeon will be all that challenging.
Mummies are still as creepy as ever, but given Hakar can kill them in one hit, I'm not sure how terrified I'm meant to be. I am thoroughly perplexed at having this much firepower, but I'm starting to glean that the game wants to trick you into depending on these fixed-level heroes as a crutch. From this point onwards, I'm going to make sure Theron does everything because he's the only one that retains experience. The other three can be hideously powerful meatshields.
The usual Dungeon Master customs still apply. Find a hidden switch...
...Find some hidden treasure. Chests are filled with goodies, and can be used as more inventory space (though the chest itself weighs a lot, so it's best to fill it with smaller items).
I'm not sure I ever showed off how Priest skills work last time. Any magic that requires a bottle, like this Vi Potion spell, is Priest magic. It lets you create health potions (and other potions, once you get better at it and learn more recipes) if you have an empty flask in one hand. Best part is that almost anyone can create a basic health potion as long as they have enough mana. You can even create poison/fireball grenades, though that wastes the flask.
Oh jeez, now there's two of them. Let's have Mara, who is high enough level to eviscerate demons with a thought, cast another low-level fireball.
One mummy died and the other is so badly hurt that I finished it off by dropping this portcullis on its head. I certainly don't feel obliged to make their deaths dignified.
Ful, which looks like a reverse N (though the game never tells you this; it's one of those 'read the manual' scenarios), is a simple lighting spell. In Dungeon Master, it was an invaluable utility spell and the best way to attain those first few difficult wizard class levels. For heroes like Mara, it'd be quicker to blow a giant hole through the ceiling to let the sunlight in.
Ah, I should probably stop already. It's clearly fairly similar to Dungeon Master, which I've played elsewhere on the site, just with a whole heaping of inexplicable design decisions.

I do kinda want to keep playing though, just to see what else has been changed. There's no denying that it's going to be easy street if all I'm fighting is low-level goons with a party that could trounce the final boss of the original game though, so there's little point in screen-capping all that. I'd have to assume that later dungeons give you weaker champions and stronger monsters to contend with, especially if it's going to be drawing from the extremely challenging Chaos Strikes Back, so maybe Theron's Quest just has a particularly weird difficulty curve.

All the same, I'm definitely intrigued by what FTL Games did here. I'm not sure the TGCD had a mouse peripheral like the Super Nintendo did (or if it did, they didn't sell too many), so maybe they figured it'd be better to make the game simpler because of how much slower and more detrimental using a controller would be. That they invented this whole story about Theron and finding armor pieces and multiple dungeons is interesting too, as if they wanted Dungeon Master veterans to give this new take a whirl. Curious stuff.

  • Theron's Quest intro (it really is almost five minutes long. That seems nuts for a cutscene made in 1992)

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Octurbo: Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action

I actually had no idea this game existed before this week. This was a suggestion from @gunstarred who I figured, given that his recent blogging has been focused on the risible Simple 2000 series, was leading me up the ninja garden path. As it turns out, Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a pretty neat game, albeit not a particularly complex one. It reminds me of one of the games I covered last year, Ninja Spirit, and how I ended up enjoying that a lot more than I thought I would. Maybe I just like ninjas a whole lot.

Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action is a 2D side-scrolling Ninja Action game (their words, not mine) that starts fairly basic with its enemies running in and getting slashed by the protagoninja. As you get further into the game, the enemy's behavior starts getting harder to cope with, as they become far better at blocking your projectiles and adopt strategies like hitting you from a range with spears or swarming you from multiple directions. It feels like the game took the template of that old beat 'em up classic Kung-Fu Master (a.k.a. Spartan X) and built on it, taking the linear, flat stages and recurring enemies running in from either direction and adding a whole bunch of options for your protagonist. It'll be easier to describe it in the screenshots, though, so let's have at it.

"I Wanna Make a Game!" "Great, What's It About?" "Ninja Action!" "Great, What's it Called?" "Ninja Action!" "Here Is 60 Million Dollars."

Welcome to Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action! "Kaze Kiri" means "wind fog". I guess it's a ninja thing. Or a flatulence thing.
We open on a familiar scene of samurais transporting nobles prior to the discovery of the wheel.
The noble in question is Princess Anime. This is before she fell on hard times and had to sell flowers in the slums of Midgar.
But wait, ninjas in bulky, noisy armor suddenly appear.
"Hey guys, can you hear that? It kinda sounds like a bunch of metallic *thunk*ing noises. Are we near some heavy machinery?"
The noble samurai are accosted by ninjae! Ninjii. Nin... lots of ninja! Guy in the back is freaking out.
They're no match for the mighty Metal Porcupine.
"Save me, Cloud!"
"I need a brave warrior to go save my daughter. You, the mysterious spiky-haired anime guy in purple who just appeared out of nowhere. You're the only one. Probably."
Wouldn't be a ninja game without a big, scary Japanese castle to invade.
Honestly, this intro so far has been pretty great. I remember how the original Ninja Gaiden was revered for being the first game to introduce cool intro cinematics, and it feels like Kaze Kiri is continuing in its spirit. This came out in 1994, for the record.
The dude just sprints through a crowd of ninja as he heads to his destination. If only the rest of the game was that easy.
So here's what the game looks like proper. This intro bit is kinda sedate, for all the flaming arrows people are shooting at me. I'm given this grace period to learn the basics: Kaze (I assume that's his name) can throw kunai and swing his sword, which appears to be contextual depending on how close an enemy is. He can also jump.
Ideally, you don't want guys this close (or to put their hands there, yeesh), but fortunately this game has a throw which helps create some distance.
This is the real first stage. Man, that's a brown looking level.
I feel any ninja game's success is contingent on how cool it looks, and Kaze Kiri meets that requirement. Enemies have ninja star projectiles, but you can bat them out of the air with your sword (which splits them in two) or by throwing your kunai at it.
Hitting forward twice performs this Mega Man-esque slide which makes it easier to get past enemies if they surround you. It also hurts them, in many cases.
I was wrong about the Kung Fu comparison earlier: You actually go DOWN these stairs. Game changer.
Running across this bridge, you'll see dudes just jump out of the water and off the screen. It's a neat effect, but I don't know if I actually ever fought any of these jumpers.
Here's the first boss. He's completely immune to kunai, so you have to get in close to damage him. His attacks hurt and reach pretty far, but there's plenty of telegraphing. He's not the quickest guy under all that armor.
You can even throw him if you get close enough, which is an impressive feat of strength. Dude must weigh a ton.
I'm taking a circuitous route to the castle, it seems. Now I'm in some sort of underground passage.
Now there's guys with spears to contend with. The combat's progressed from "swipe at a guy when he gets close" to "try to find a gap in the enemy's defense while dodging their attacks". You end up deflecting blows a lot while running and jumping and sliding around looking for an opening. And this is with every enemy from here on out. It's not quite as enervating as it sounds, but rather it makes every little one-on-one clash feel like a proper fight, even if they're usually over in seconds (ninjas, natch). It's impressive for a game that would appear at first glance to be far less sophisticated than other brawlers from the early 90s.
I actually won this fight, despite appearances. I should explain how progress works in this game: there's a green "Enemy" counter at the top right. Rather than being the enemy's health, this tells you how many enemies you need to defeat before moving on. Enemies keep coming regardless of where you are in a stage, but once that bar empties you're allowed to move on. It does mean that the game can get kinda repetitive, but given how easy it is to run and jump past everything, I suppose they felt they needed to force you to do at least some fighting. The title is Kaze Kiri, not Lazy Kiri.
The basic ninja enemies are getting ever more devious. These guys are weak, but they show up in great numbers and try to surround you.
I eventually meet this guy, who might be the enemy ninja from the opening cutscene. Unlike the big armored guy, this is a real fight.
He fights like you do, moving around and using his agility against you. Eventually, he starts teleporting around and breathing fire at you, which is something I'm fairly sure I'm incapable of doing. He also peaces out before you can kill him, so I imagine we have a Protoman scenario on our hands here.
This part's great. The old "bamboo breathing tube" bit.
And then I start scaling this wall. It's all very familiar ninja fiction clichés, but I admire the craft in animating this climbing sequence, given that I probably won't be climbing anything again in this game.
The parallax scrolling with the background looks good too.
I think I should probably call it quits at this point. I mean, I'm at the top of the castle already. How much more game could there be?

I don't think what Kaze Kiri does is particularly new or impressive, but it's certainly made with a lot of attention to detail. The gameplay is both repetitive and demanding of the player's attention. The way stronger enemies will block many of the more obvious, basic attacks means you have to improvise often to kill them, and the different enemy types all have their own tactics. The bosses, too, can get pretty darn serious. It's one of those cases where you're unable to rely on boring straightforward attacks and end up flipping and jumping all over the place, distracting enemies with kunais while you close the distance or finding a way to get past their guard, all the while looking really cool while doing so. It makes you feel like you're having more fun, even if you're just plowing through the same group of bad guy ninjas over and over.

It might not be a stand-out forgotten gem from the PC Engine CD-ROM library, but if all it is is some great audio and well-animated (well, in short bursts) cutscenes layered over a competent 16-bit brawler, I'm content with that package.

Talking of audio:

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Octurbo: No.Ri.Ko

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why would a self-respecting (ehhh...) videogamesman like Mento LP what appears to be a dating sim written and voiced entirely in Japanese starring what is clearly an underage Japanese idol?" And that would be a good question. A very good question. As it happens, Alfa System's No.Ri.Ko has a rather special historical distinction.

When the PC Engine CD-ROM² debuted in Japan in late 1988, two games were produced as launch titles for the peripheral. The first was Fighting Street; what is actually a port of the first Street Fighter, the mediocre fighting game from Capcom which would become vastly overshadowed by its far superior sequel, and the second was No.Ri.Ko. No.Ri.Ko is therefore the first video game made specifically for the CD-ROM format. Like, ever. The first PC CD-ROM games wouldn't appear until the following year, and other CD-ROM consoles would follow a few years after that. Given the proliferation of CD games in the fourth and fifth generation of consoles, it's quite a feat. And NEC pulled this off two months after the Japanese release of the Sega Mega Drive, and two years before the Super Famicom (SNES).

As for the game itself, it's largely an experimental "see what works with this new format" collection of mini-games and redbook audio sound clips (including three whole single tracks) linked together by a story. That story is that the player is a teenage fan of the titular celebrity heroine Noriko Ogawa and they find her train pass lying on the ground while on the way to a concert she's hosting. In gratitude, her manager sets up a date between the two of you. You spend the day walking around Tokyo doing date stuff. I think. I got the gist, but obviously I had to piece together most of what was going on by the screenshots, as my fluency in Japanese lies somewhere between non-existent and "'arigatou' either means 'thank you' or 'where are the bathrooms?'". If you've seen the type of early CD-ROM games covered by Giant Bomb on their CD-i or 3DO streams, you know they tend to be big on multimedia and small on anything approaching actual interactivity.

For Some Fun Added Context, Noriko was Fifteen in 1988. I Am Now a Criminal, and Will Be Going to Jail Presently

Welcome to No.Ri.Ko! I already feel super weird about this!
Aww, the name input screen has little hearts. I have no idea what I'm typing in. I'm hoping I stumble on "Charlie Tunoku".
"Dear Diary: What the hell am I doing playing this?"
So we're here outside of the concert hall where Noriko's about to put on a show. People are queuing up around the block and they... all appear to be teenage and adult men. Huh.
This is Noriko. We're introduced to her through a -- though I hesitate to call it as much -- music video for one of her singles.
Said music video consists of the same five or six photo stills over and over again, with the occasional Photoshop filter. A gentle reminder that no-one had any idea what the heck they were doing with the CD-ROM format yet.
After the show, we meet this trustworthy individual who introduces himself as Noriko's manager (I definitely heard "manager" in English).
Noriko seems pretty psyched that we're going on a date, and not at all like she was coerced into doing so for a publicity thing.
So here we are in Tokyo (circa 1929, by the look of things) and I'm given the same options I get with almost every in-game decision: "Do a thing" or "Don't do a thing, and then be asked again if I want to do a thing".
Noriko's either pointing something out to me or giving me the thumbs up. I have no clue what's going on, so I'll just roll with it.
Man, suddenly my MS Paint portfolio doesn't look so bad.
Dammit Noriko, I'm not buying you pants. You're a millionaire for Criminy's sake. Or at least your handlers are.
Noriko tires of clothes shopping and decides we need to get something to eat. We take a spin on the Wheel of Foodtune. Here's hoping I get "Soup and Cigarette"! No whammies!
Instead, we stop on these dumpling things. Takoyaki would be my guess. I get most of my Japanese food cuisine knowledge from the Yakuza games, so all I know about Takoyaki is that it has octopus in it and that you can push the sticks into the eyes of gang members. I suspect I won't be doing much of the latter today.
Do we really need to see Noriko eat? I kind of assumed they were props anyway.
Noriko can never be satiated, so now we spin again.
It's ramen time! It's weird, but I swear that I've seen Hulk Hogan doing this exact same pose.
Next stop is a nexus to the metaphysical plane of whimsy. When travelling to the planes, the D&D Player's Handbook suggests a party of level 12 or above, but Noriko says she's got this.
Noriko's single from earlier starts playing, and you can make her dance with the arrows and face buttons. (The dancing is what repels the Slaads and Balors that have made this dimension their home.)
"Time's up, weirdo. I'm no longer contractually obligated to find you charming and fun. Buzz off."
And so the sun sets on a day spent with a capricious and deranged pop star, I start to pontificate on-
Oh wait, you're staying over because of the rain? Well, that's kind of weird.
But wait, it's suddenly quiz time. Is this a test on Megan's Law?
I don't know any of these answers. I don't even know the questions. I think it's that dating sim scenario where you have to know everything about a girl, including her allergies and phobias, before she'll like you. So many wrong messages.
I know what this looks like, but she's just singing into her hand like it's a microphone. It's another music break, for Noriko's second single featured on this CD-ROM.
"This is starting to get a little too real for me, Noriko. Like, I was hoping for an autograph or something. I'm going to call my Mom to pick me up."
Bye Noriko!

I don't know what else to tell you. I mean, this is essentially a proof-of-concept "Interactivity Center" more than anything else, giving players (and other developers) a sense of what's possible with the CD medium with all its high quality sound clips and digitized photos. We've seen (and will see) many better examples of early CD-ROM gaming, but it's worth taking a look back at what those first few awkward steps with the format were like. It's telling that the CD-ROM consoles that would hit the States in the following years were producing very similar experiments (even with the same crappy 80s clip-art!), such as those Make My Video games and whatever the hell Plumbers Don't Wear Ties was about.

But man, I gotta wonder how many people were buying a ¥60,000 peripheral at launch to go on a virtual date with a teenage pop star (or play a so-so Arcade fighter game port). A distressingly large amount, probably.

  • Couldn't find the music, but here's a NicoNico LP of No.Ri.Ko. With Japanese subtitles, for those of you unable to understand the Japanese audio.

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Octurbo: Cho Aniki

Well, it's come to this. I figured I ought to cover Cho Aniki eventually, what with the TurboGrafx-CD being the very system where this whole sorry affair of beefcake shoot 'em ups originated. For the uninitiated, Cho Aniki ("Super Big Brother") is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up that borrows a page from Parodius' book in bewildering the player with its visuals as a means to trip them up and cause them to prematurely game over. Prematurely do something, anyway. I talked about how random stuff appearing out of nowhere would occasionally be your downfall in Lords of Thunder, and Cho Aniki is that concept multipled by infinity. It's the game Shadow Kanji Tatsumi would make, if he had his druthers.

Then again, I hear it's the PS1/Saturn game where this series really starts to go off the rails. In comparison, the first Cho Aniki is practically a somber documentary on the perils of obsessive bodybuilding and steampunk gone awry. At any rate, I wasn't about to pass up something as historically significant as the first Cho Aniki game. For a system that didn't seem to get too far in the US, it sure was the origin point for a lot of interesting franchises.

This Octurbo is Rated PG-13 for Posing Pouches

This seems a lot more serious than I was expecting. That guy is very big.
Oh, never mind. I was worried for a moment that I put the wrong CD in.
Welcome to Cho Aniki! I'm playing on Normal. I suspect I might not live to regret it.
Your playable characters are Cecil Harvey and Terra Branford, meeting years before the Dissidia crossover. Actually, it's Idaten and Benten. I don't know who they're supposed to be.
The game immediately begins with these flying cages. You start between those two upper left ones and will die within seconds unless you move out of the way, which feels super cheap. Welcome to Cho Aniki! Again!
Enemies start showing up fairly soon, and it's a mix of birdmen and Metal Slug mechs so far.
The first boss (or mid-boss, I suppose) is this creepy thing. All those creepy weird bald guys. Is this where Cargo: the Quest for Gravity got it from?
Though it doesn't seem like you're doing any damage, persist shooting the front and it'll crack to reveal the boss's weak point. Already I'm having trouble dodging these bullets, and they don't give you a lot of room to move around in.
After the boss is this fast descent with... you know what, we'll gloss over the green fellow and talk about Samson, the little orange guy in the speedo. Samson and Adon are essentially Options in this game, but they would go on to become the mascots for the Cho Aniki series (as well as starring in the next game, Ai Cho Aniki).
I eventually bump into... what I guess is a Tengu wearing a fedora. Riding a mechanized tree branch.
Midway through the fight, he loses his log and his, uh, face. I'm not sure who Mr. Topknot is.
It's not apparent from the screenshots, but this game has a very schizophrenic pace, dropping you in and out of boss fights without a second's notice. The music follows suit. Oh man, the music in this game... I'll save that for later.
Next boss is- You know what, screw it. Your guess is as good as mine. A spider tank run by two balding guys, let's go with that.
This giant mechanical samurai is fairly unremarkable in comparison, but at least it looks cool. It's apparently powered by liquefied muscle energy.
Once you blow the head off, Topknot shows up again. Him and his two hands are spectral, so they flash a lot. Made grabbing a screenshot a handful.
I didn't cap the last one, but these overview screens give you some idea of what you'll be facing next. There's no hints about how to destroy them, but I've found that shooting at bosses a whole lot seems to work so far.
Look at this beautiful knight sky. Oh shut up. How are you supposed to caption giant rampaging chess pieces shooting smaller chess pieces at you without chess puns? You can't, last time I checked.
The way this guy plays the harp with his stubby little arms is disquieting. This whole game is disquieting.
Nice looking background this time, though it doesn't make enemy bullets any more visible.
Next guy is this half-sun, half-mechanical floating island powered by a bodybuilder. A Cho Aniki boss, in other words.
The veneer peels away to reveal a whole bunch of guns. It switches from drills to lasers to machine guns, though they're all easy enough to avoid if you don't float directly in front of them.
Next this is this disturbing angelfish. I had legit trouble with this one, because it fires a lot of bubbles at you. These bubbles move fast but are destructible, which means your best bet is to stay somewhat parallel with the fish's mouth and zap them once they appear. All these giant blue bolts don't make it easy though.
What's most jarring is how the background comes back completely different after each mid-boss. Now it's some kind of medieval aqueduct?
I... fuck, I give up. I gotta hand it to this game, it comes up with some weird-ass bosses. And there's that muscleman canister again.
I believe I've had all I can take of Cho Aniki. I'll stop it here before I'm forced to gun down Buff Thomas the Tank Engine.

That's Cho Aniki. I think. I'm still confused, but I suppose the vaguely "H.G. Wells by way of John-Paul Gaultier" visual stylings of this game start to seem normal after a while. Like I said earlier, the weirdness of the PS1 sequel easily supersedes this one. As a pure shoot 'em up it's not too bad, though very limited at the same time. Especially in comparison with its peers, given that the TurboGrafx was rife with superlative examples of the genre (like Blazing Lazers). The player can only upgrade their one weapon (I assume the other playable character, Idaten, has his own upgrade path) and Samson and Adon only seem to help out every now and again. They're mostly just there as bullet buffers.

For a game made famous by its idiosyncrasies, it's still a fairly solid if unremarkable shoot 'em up underneath. There's certainly nothing wrong with grounding the gameplay with some rudimentary fundamentals and then layering on the insanity with the visuals and presentation. I think making both sides of the equation as equally chaotic (say, with a byzantine power-up system) would just lead to a lot of confusion and annoyance. I may just be talking out of the hole on the top of my head, but I think Cho Aniki's appeal is that the game is easy enough to pick up and play, and you can enjoy the campy weirdness without worrying too much about what you're meant to be doing. Protip: Shoot everything.

  • Cho Aniki full soundtrack (listening to each track one after the other with all the weird tonal shifts gives you a pretty decent sense of what it's like when actually playing the game)

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Octurbo: Dungeon Explorer 2

This first week of Octurbo-CD has involved a lot of revisiting the TG-16 franchises of last year's Octurbo and getting some obvious choices out of the way. While that'll persist into week two somewhat, it has less to do with a lack of imagination but rather ensuring that we start with a sure and steady first footstep before wildly sprinting off into the terrifying unknown. In that vein, Dungeon Explorer II is one of those games I left as a "stay tuned" while penning the original Octurbo, and was one of the few items I had on a list of potential TurboGrafx-CD games to cover a year in advance. (Yeah, I actually plan out this stuff ahead of time. I feel like I might be killing the magic, here.)

Dungeon Explorer II is the sequel to Dungeon Explorer (well, doy), which was a game I found more enjoyable the more of it I played and the better acquainted I got with its systems. A then-modern take on a multiplayer console version of Gauntlet (the timing of this blog with the recent release of an even more modern take on Gauntlet is entirely coincidental), Dungeon Explorer merged that top-down frenetic Arcade action with standard RPG trappings such as leveling up and talkative NPCs and an overworld and an overarching narrative. Those trappings were largely superficial in some respects -- leveling up simply entailed finding gems after each boss fight, or collecting the occasional permanent stat boost through exploration -- but it enhanced the standard "shoot at monster spawners and move on" gameplay beyond a repetitive slog. I don't mind spelunking a few floors of beasties to shoot at, but knowing it would eventually culminate in a cool boss fight, a boost in stats and some additional story made it all the more enticing.

Dungeon Explorer II appears to be more of the same from what little I played, even graphically, though the addition of redbook audio music and overdramatic voiceovers has certainly improved my affection for the format. I'll save the rest for the screenshots themselves.

Dungeon Explorer 2: The Explorening

Welcome to Dungeon Explorer II! What, no elaborate anime intro this time?
This is a really cute way to do a selection screen. As this little skit involving all the heroes in the game plays out, it gives you a fair sense of their personalities, which the game proper doesn't spend much time considering. You obviously need some type of multitap peripheral for most of these options, but it's cool you can play with four other people at the same time. I have to wonder how you would settle arguments about who gets what power-up.
We recount the ending of the first game, when the brave heroes fought the dread lord Natas and recovered the Orb of Ora.
Hilariously, they play this fight out in real-time, as the three heroes run around in circles and manage to hit the bad guy every so often. I'm not sure if it was meant to look this uncoordinated.
Oddessia enjoyed a period of peace until... whatever the hell this is turned up.
Monsters! From every direction!
Man, they aren't sugarcoating it. Oddessia seems pretty boned.
A brave knight puts up a defense in the palace's throneroom, but...
He's no match for this white-haired androgynous bad guy. Goddammit, hasn't he ever been in an anime game before?
The King refuses to capitulate the Orb of Ora to this bishounen baddie. "You know how many Game Overs my ancestors went through for that thing?"
Pretty Elf Man respects the King's wishes, promising to only take the orb over his cold, dead body.
One cold, dead body later, and he walks off with the Orb of Ora, laughing maniacally. This is probably bad, right? It seems bad.
Meanwhile, we're on another continent somewhere talking about princesses getting kidnapped by Man-Bull. Man, that's some bull.
The King implores us, in wonderfully overwrought voiceover, that we need to rescue his beloved Princess Miriam.
Hunting around the castle, I find out a couple of things. The first is that the game has kept the black/white magic system, giving you some one-shot items for when the chips are down. Each character has a unique effect.
I also find some white magic and accidentally use it, but fortunately this barrier sticks around until I take enough damage to dispel it. It's pretty sweet.
This is what I like to see. The Royal Library gives you a whole bunch of backstory if you want it (beyond the intro cutscene), or you can just walk right on by.
It also apparently has this sweet home entertainment system. I couldn't get it to do anything, but I suspect this is where you'll be able to listen to music and watch cutscenes. Maybe that's an end-game thing.
Continuing my peregrinations around the starting town, I discover that I can teleport to other areas of the game. I'm guessing I need to visit them first. I also assume that this means that this town is a hub of sorts, sitting centrally surrounded by all the game's dungeons.
Here I am playing cards with the Grim Reaper. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Death loses, naturally ("Um, best two out of three!") and I get an extra life. The lives system carries over too, it seems: the player can die a finite number of times, but they lose all their temporary stat boosts each time they do.
We've been repeatedly told to head west to Norville: The Death Maze that the Princess is in lies somewhere to the northeast of that town. The ferryman is being a dick however. He asks us to kill the monster south of the village, because the princess of his kingdom being in mortal peril is apparently no big deal.
So now we finally see some gameplay. These red orb things are actually portals, which is to say they are monster spawners. We don't need to destroy them all, but it's the best way to avoid getting swarmed.
I'm going to assume the guy meant whatever creature is inhabiting Demon's Claw. Couldn't they have named it something less intimidating? It's my first dungeon. How about "Wuss Cave"?
The music gets noticeably more badass as we start on our first dungeon.
These boots are one of those temporary stat boosts I told you about. It increases AG (agility, I'm guessing) and makes me a little faster. Handy, but I'll need to avoid dying to hang onto it. Shouldn't be hard with all these barrier potions I'm picking up.
No, no, that's quite all right. It seems perfectly natural for you to be here, random NPC. He gives us a cryptic hint about some other monster that I hope I wasn't supposed to remember.
I can't get across to where those two power-ups are, but I then recall how dungeons work in this game. I'll be grabbing those on the way back to the surface, I surmise.
The boss cryptically talks about an entirely different enemy before deciding that the questions can wait until after I've been eviscerated. I suspect this guy isn't a master of interrogation.
"This guy" being a giant wolf. Though there's two of them, the beige one is simply a doppelganger that I can't hurt in any way. I guess the developers thought this fight was too easy with just one wolf.
And they'd be right. These XP jewels return from the prior game: they cycle through the four stat colors, letting you choose your preference. I'm going for AT (attack). I also get a huge boost to HP too, for the greater dangers ahead.
Told ya so. The axe was even more AT, while the crown gave me an intelligence boost. Not sure what I'll need that for, perhaps it governs the power of my magic?
Impressed, the ferryman drops us off on the other bank, at last. Happy I beat your tutorial dungeon now, jerk? (Honestly, I probably could've used the health boost.)
And our next destination becomes clear. I'd almost be tempted to detour to check out some of these other dungeons, except I expect to be killed immediately by all the high level monsters. I think this is a good point to stop, at any rate.

Well, that's Dungeon Explorer II. If you've gone back to check the first game's LP, you might've noticed how closely the two games resemble each other. I guess Atlus didn't feel like fixing what wasn't broke, but at least this one seems a lot more forgiving. Not that you could expect the first dungeon to be brutally unfair. I've also spent less time wandering around lost, so that's a plus too.

And, again, there's the music. It's a lot of fun, switching from schmaltzy town muzak to rockin' dungeon/boss themes, and it all sounds pretty good for 1993 (I say that, but 1993's Mega Man X and Secret of Mana have awesome soundtracks too). Have a listen, and I'll see you all next time:

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