Oh, Yo Bro. One of the few American-exclusive TurboGrafx-16 games, Yo Bro - as its unambiguous name might suggest - depicts the adventures of a skateboarding bear in Santa Cruz. The game has a definite ToeJam and Earl flair, from its incredibly 90s presentation to its sorta open-world nature, though Yo Bro is considerably worse. Its problems are largely due to the game design, which feels like it was cobbled together from loose notes someone was taking while playing Skate or Die and imagining how much more fun it would be if instead of tricks and races you had to stand perfectly still to accurately shoot a series of stationary targets until they eventually died. And then made that dream a reality with a skateboarding bear on the TurboGrafx-16. And then liberally applied Beach Boys MIDIs all over it. (Guys, the TG-CD was already out, you could've used the real thing.)
But hey, October's all about horrors, is it not?
Who is Skateboarding? Bear is Skateboarding! How Can That Be?
Yo Bro, tho. While theoretically speaking a smack-talking sk8rbear might be worth a mocking chuckle (mockle?) or two, no further chuckles were to transpire once the game had revealed its means of progression. I would've been way happier skating around the level collecting the various kids in peril instead of tediously eliminating minion-spawning and regenerating enemies - the NPC rescue system worked well enough for countless 16-bit games, including the aforementioned Zombies Ate My Neighbors which felt like a big influence on the game (well, except for the whole "Yo Bro was released first" issue with that supposition).
So, in conclusion, Yo Bro had some interesting ideas for an open-world action game that it failed to capitalize on in a way that didn't make me want to replace a skateboard ramp with my own head, but there would eventually be others to pick up its wiggity-wack slack. I suppose if Yo Bro was in some way indirectly responsible for ToeJam & Earl or ZATM I can forgive its irritating and ill-advised game design.
Talking of zombies, this game was created by the same guys behind the equally mediocre Ghost Manor: ICOM, those pioneers of the point and click genre. Seriously, what happened to those guys?
I initially wasn't going to do this one but then I played it and figured it's about time I got around to some half-decent TG-16 games again, even if they're just graphically-enhanced NES ports. Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu is probably the best known Jackie Chan license game outside of that one Arcade fighter where Jackie fights Mortal Kombat knock-offs, and pits a Drunken Master-era Jackie against all manner of Chinese-themed opponents as he searches for his kidnapped sister Josephine. It's another one of those "walk right and hit things" affairs, but it's got oodles of goofy charm and, well, Jackie Chan is in it. You know, the guy from the movies.
Rumble in the Grafx
Jackie Chan's Drama Karate is a fine little platformer/brawler thing. There's variation in both the moves Jackie can perform, at least to the extent that an 8-bit game is able, as well as in the enemies and how they approach you. Tigers are to be dealt with cautiously, Mongolian spearguys are to be dealt with quickly, hawks are to be flying kicked to oblivion and adorable frogs are to be left expressly alone unless in the player is in a really critical situation. It's also challenging but not brutally so, which is all I can really ask from a NES-era title.
I've heard the TG-16 version has a few additions and improvements over the NES original, due to it being developed a year later, so maybe I should do a compare and contrast one of these days. Or just look up the changes on Wikipedia, that seems easier. Might come back to this one at any rate. Can't get enough Jackie.
Octurbo's back once again with another TurboGrafx-16 oddity. Today we're looking at the Atlus (yes, that Atlus) game Somer Assault, a.k.a. Mesopotamia, in which the player controls a slinky armed to the teeth and ready to throw down against twelve mechanical steampunk bosses that represent signs of the zodiac that were willed into existence by an evil megalomaniacal sorceress dressed like Zoot from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".
"But wait," you might ask, "where does the 'oddity' part come in?" Well that would be the gameplay - a sort of platformer/shoot 'em up hybrid that has you crawling along walls and doing all sorts of weird traversal stuff in order to find and defeat the boss before the strict time limit runs out.
I'm going to need to post some pictures, aren't I? I mean, gee, otherwise this game won't make any sense.
What Walks Down Stairs, Alone or in Pairs, and Absolutely Will Not Stop Until You Are Dead?
I don't know, for as bizarre as this game is it's kind of growing on me. I'm probably not going to appreciate the more maze-like levels to come, but there's some craft behind this game and some innovative ideas behind its mechanics, if only in the euphemistic sense of the term "innovative" (which is to say "effing weird"). Safe to say there's not a whole lot like this out there (though I have played as a slinky before, in the dire Amiga game Frost Byte).
But man, what is with Atlus and astrology? First the tarot and now this. I wonder if they saw their eventual acquisition by Sega in the cards? "You have drawn the Hanged Man, Death and the Cyan Erinaceus: this indicates great change in your future."
Took a little hiatus yesterday to polish off Dark Souls, but here we are with another Octurbo. Following the end of Man Week, the theme of the next group of games is that there is no theme. Pretty avant garde, right? First on the chopping block, and following in Batman's wake somewhat, is another Japan-only game based on a beloved 1980s action movie from America. I mean, it's Die Hard., you can all read titles. I just get so lost as to what to put up here sometimes.
The Die Hard game isn't quite the departure from its source material that Batman was, but it's still taking a few liberties with the plot of the movie. It's actually a lot like the NES game, which is explicable given both are top-down shooters with the same developer (Pack-in-Video), but oddly enough not quite as advanced despite being on a 16-bit system. The NES game had a lot of interesting ideas, though it's worth noting that it was released a year after this TG-16 version and Pack-In-Video had a bit more time (and feedback) with which to improve it.
But whatever, this is a movie license game. Looow expectations to overcome.
Play a TurboGrafx-16 Game, Get Together, Have a Few Laughs...
And that's the TG-16 Die Hard game. If it ever gets to the point where it remembers that it's supposed to be based on a movie with scenes that wouldn't be impossible to translate into an action game without adding leftover level design from Commando, I didn't see it. I was too busy getting horribly turned around by Ellis' goddamn basement garden maze. They really let success go to their heads back then, huh? Why couldn't he have spent it all on nose candy like everyone else.
Die Hard's not a bad game on a purely mechanical level. A little uninspired maybe, since the top-down path it follows was well-trod even by 1990. It does throw plenty of new weapons, health pick-ups and armor at you at regular intervals to keep things fair, barring an insta-death pitfall or two. Ultimately it is its dubious connection to the movie, adding in stages from stock Vietnam shooter games that have no place being adjacent to a skyscraper in downtown LA, that really make it seem like a lazy cash grab. The plot of Die Hard would not be incredibly difficult to turn into a game, as the later NES version would almost sort of figure out, so it just seems baffling as well as disappointing. Oh, and fuck maze levels in shooters. At least give me a map!
I know, a movie license game wasn't all that great. Octurbo will presumably continue to blow your minds with the blogs to come.
Man Week finally draws to a close as we take a look at ICOM Simulations' Ghost Manor, which kind of has the word "Man" in it, kind of. ICOM's best known for their MacVenture series of early point and clicks: Deja Vu, Shadowgate and Uninvited. So this should be a fairly cerebral, fairly story-based, fairly unfair adventure game based on the developer's history, right? It's probably not an abjectly awful and completely inscrutable Castlevania knockoff. Surely.
Holy Shit I'm Finally Acknowledging That It's Halloween Month
I don't much care for Ghost Manor. It evokes for me a great number of LJN games where the low quality wasn't simply reserved for its graphical and sound presentation, or even its inaccurate and awkward combat and platforming, but rather the complete lack of any purpose, sense or context for what's going on. I know I'm meant to be heading to the eponymous building via a "back way" through the forest, but beyond that there's no clear indication of what I'm meant to do or where to go. My singular weapon can actually run out (and quite easily), enemies either punch you off platforms or are revealed to be helpful spirits despite looking as nefarious as anything else and exits have to be specially sought out by checking every area of darkness to see if it's actually a doorway to a new area. Actually, I'd say the game Ghost Manor reminds me the most of is Young Merlin, because that game had all of the above problems with inscrutability and poor design as well as another unlikeable hero with an awful mullet.
Anyway, Ghost Manor is one of those games where you can instantly recognize the poor craftsmanship and that sort of puts a damper on trying to figure out what the hell it wants from you. You realize intuitively that whatever prize awaits those willing to puzzle out its bizarre mechanics is probably not going to be worth it. This may end up gripping horror fans like our own Patrick Klepek with the same grim fascination that they might reserve for the NES Friday the 13th game, yet somehow I doubt it'll inspire the same level of self-destructive dedication.
On a final note, ICOM would also go on to create a very badly received psuedo-sequel to Shadowgate named Beyond Shadowgate for the Turbo-CD. Might have to pencil that one in for next year, while I still hold some affection for that series which can then be summarily squandered away.
Octurbo Man Week meets Technicality Thursday with Chew Man Fu, the racially-sensitive puzzle game. Do you has what it takes to foil a grotesque stereotype by kicking him directly in his balls? Can you live with the murder of countless innocent hedgehogs, turtles and penguins? Can you abide an old man on a cloud who keeps hitting on you? Then Chew Man Fu might just be for Chew Man You.
Of All the TG-16 Games I've Encountered in My Travels, This Was the Most... Chew Man
Chew Man Fu is a novel little take on Sokoban/Adventures of Lolo though some of its mechanics can be a little fiddly at times, especially when moving balls in and out of tight gaps (yeah, yeah, one more salacious gag for the road). There's also that whole issue with the "we think Chinese people are inherently mockable, with their crazy little outfits, goofy names and thousands of years of culture and history" too, but we - a nation that created Custer's Revenge - can't really point fingers at the Japanese for tactless games like this. It's worth noting that the game is known by the far more neutral "Be Ball" in its native country and is presumably less packed with "Egg Roll Dynasty" bon mots. In conclusion, this game has caused me to lose all faith in humanity.
What else might I lose during Octurbo? My appreciation of the 16-bit era? My sanity? My will to live? Keep tuning in to find out!
More superhero shenanigans here on Octurbo. Today we visit the foreboding Gotham City to see what ol' growly's up to on the TurboGrafx-16. There are... quite a few strange things about this particular adaptation. The chief of which is that this game was never released outside of Japan, even though it's based on an American comic book and has no Japanese text in it. Oh, but the oddities don't end there.
Honestly, Batman might be the strangest game I've covered yet in Octurbo. I know Lady Sword set a high bar to surpass, but...
Have You Ever Danced With Clyde in the Pale Moonlight?
So I have no idea what the deal is with this game. I'm going to assume the following:
The lead designer assigned to this project had never heard of Batman before. He's seen pictures - the studio sent over several shots of the movie to provide a basis for the art teams - but the finer details about what Batman is and what he does elude him. However, the team down the hallway is busy at work on the NES version of the game and he's determined not to be shown up by his rivals. He quickly does some reconnaissance and discovers that Batman's mostly concerned with "cleaning up the mean streets of Gotham". "Ah," he thinks, "so he's some kind of overly elaborate costumed janitor?" Inspired, he quickly gets to work on a game that accurately depicts the adventures of the Caped Sanitation Worker.
That's probably entirely fallacious, but I can't imagine what lead to re-imagining Batman as a 16-bit Pac-Man clone. Maybe SunSoft wanted to create two very different games to give Batman fans a reason to buy both? There's a lot of cross-pollination between the two, with their similar graphical styles (the game looks excellent, for all its problems) and music (this game has a remixed version of Streets of Desolation, one of the best NES tunes ever composed). It's well crafted, though so weirdly incongruous to what a Batman game should be.
Why the hell is Batman picking up boxes and cleaning graffiti?
On this episode of Octurbo Man Week, the concussive sounds of inevitability ring in our collective ears as we finally cover Hudson's most famous little bald guy. No, not that one, the other one. The one that drops bombs everywhere.
Bomberman '93 is one of those games people tend to list as the "best" of the early 2D Bombermans, alongside Saturn Bomberman and Super Bombermans 2 and 3, which is a comparative process that has always baffled me. I purport (with a certain amount of spurious bluster, granted) to be someone with enough game design knowhow to pick apart even the minor shifts and changes between one game and the next in a series, but the Bomberman series really do all seem like the same game to me. Even with the superficial additions of kangeroos or bomb gloves or whatever other inconsequential superfluousness has been added to justify another new game. Bomberman 64, for all its problems, actually felt like the first time Bomberman tried evolving and leaving its relatively uncharred safety zone.
So, in conclusion, this is just more Bomberman. For a feature focusing on a console where half the games are from Hudson Soft, though, it's not a franchise I can really ignore forever.
Bomberman is what it is, so I can't fault it too much. I can however fault the sheer output of Hudson's favorite character, and I have to imagine that leaning on that little pyromaniac so heavily is eventually what put them under. The TG-16 library demonstrates that while not all of Hudson's ideas were great, they still had a lot of them. They were practically competing with Capcom and Konami back then in the sheer number of franchises and memorable mascot characters they were churning out. I almost feel kind of bad for highlighting what is essentially the creative cancer that led to their demise.
Man, am I getting a little too melodramatic over here. Bomberman is a series of games where a little white robot blows things up. This was one of them. Thanks for stopping by.
Welcome to Day 2 of Man Week here at Octurbo. Today we look at NCS's Shockman, another superhero parody action game that skews a little more towards Mega Man than Bravoman did. In fact, it's highly reminiscent of Mega Man X, only without the non-linear enemy select, which is quite a feat considering it pre-dates Capcom's Mega Man spin-off by a couple of years. Shockman is actually the second game in the Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman quadrilogy, but for some reason this was the only one that received a localization.
So Shockman's actually quite solid. Plays well, is reasonably challenging, has some bizarre bosses and lets you continue from the start of the current level as many times as you'd like. I don't know what I was expecting after the underwhelming Bravoman but this feels much closer to a 16-bit era game. I'd hesitate to go as far as to say this was the TG-16's Mega Man X, despite my many allusions to same, because that game had a hell of a lot more going on with all its wall-jumps, interchangeable weapons and non-linearity (the music's quite a bit better too). Instead, think of this as a lesser/earlier version of what would become one of Capcom's best SNES games, in the same way that Neutopia felt like a waypoint between the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past.
It does make me curious about the other Schbibinman games. You can read more about them in one of HardcoreGaming101's characteristically verbose breakdowns here. I might have to check out that third game whenever I finally start covering the TurboGrafx-CD.
All right, let's move on from the RPGs. The only thing I had left was Order of the Griffon, and it's about as impenetrable as any of the Gold Box D&D games. Well, maybe it isn't that obtuse, but it's another first-person dungeon crawler and I've seen quite enough of those for the time being.
Instead, we're moving onto a new theme. As someone who is frequently associated with hyper-masculinity (this is emphatically untrue, but stick with me here, I'm doing a bit), it's hard to find games that are able to reflect my lumberjackian levels of testosterone. The games I'll be covering all this week all have "man" in the title, is basically what this is, because I noticed there was a lot of them and I'm running out of rational ways to thematically link these games together.
The first is Namco's Bravoman. A bizarre but inconsequential curio back in the day, the telescopic superhero has gained something of a minor resurgence of late due to his prominence in Namco Bandai's ShiftyLook campaign to resurrect various old licenses of theirs via webcomics and cartoons. Why they couldn't just release another dozen Namco Museum games or give them all cameos in the next Tales as per usual I'm not sure. Bravoman's a "parodic" superhero game, ridiculing the po-faced tokusatsu superhero shows that were a thing in Japan and decidedly less of a thing in the US. For all this pre-amble leading up to the part where I post a lot of pictures, I don't really have a lot to say about it.
This Week on "Bravoman": The Real Housewives of VILLAINY
Bravoman's fun enough on a rudimentary level, but there's nothing particularly remarkable about it. The TurboGrafx-16 kind of hovered between the 8-bit and 16-bit era, so you'll see plenty of its games hearken back to a more innocent time where all you needed to do was to walk right and hit dudes occasionally. The stretchy powers both enhance the player's arsenal of moves while also allowing them to stand safely far away from any danger, so it kind of feels like a double-edged sword. Or a double-length arm. I don't know. I feel like a lot of the humor and references might have got lost in the translation too.
But hey, it looks like Namco's doing some weird and interesting stuff with the character now. On top of the ShiftyLook media, there's also a new tablet game called Bravoman: Binja Bash. On the one hand, I have to imagine Bravoman is a hopelessly obscure game even in regions that actually got to play it and so all the attention and funding being put towards its resurrection is kind of baffling; but on the other hand - that is, the one that I've been using to flip off Capcom for mishandling all of its legacy properties besides Street Fighter - I can totally get behind any weird attempts to tap into nostalgic appeal like this. Namco's never one to toss an idea or an old character to the wayside, even if it's just some blue guy with extendo-limbs that everyone's forgotten about.