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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Octurbo: Beyond Shadowgate

Beyond Shadowgate is one of a few TurboGrafx-CD games I selected for this year's Octurbo because it builds on an old game I have a lot of fondness for. In this case, that would be the 1987 ICOM MacVenture game Shadowgate. Shadowgate has a reputation for killing its players over and over with something close to a sadistic reverie; a design decision I don't think was entirely a simple hold-over from the far less forgiving text adventures that ICOM's employees cut their teeth with. It may sound cynical, but if you're building an adventure game that dials up the unnecessary and random deaths some several magnitudes more than ought to be acceptable, it's more likely to create a lasting impression on the player. It also starts to come back around to funny again, like Sideshow Bob and his thousand rakes to the face, though maybe that's just the Battered Person Syndrome talking. Sierra would become the masters of the cheap and funny death in due time, but there's something about how easily the Grim Reaper finds you in Shadowgate that almost seems farcical.

Beyond Shadowgate may change a few things -- the game is now a third-person affair, letting you move around the screen and fight -- it still feels like the same old brutally unfair Shadowgate. The presentation's a little spotty in places (if you saw Ghost Manor from last year's Octurbo, Beyond Shadowgate feels graphically similar, which is to say fairly ugly with melon-domed characters) but it definitely gets the feel and personality right. Hoo boy, does it ever.

Shadowgate Doesn't Have Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System. The Game Itself is Your Nemesis

Welcome to Beyond Shadowgate! What am I doing to this poor demon? Well, when you gotta go...
The intro recounts the story of Shadowgate (spoilers for a 27 year old game): The Warlock had just summoned the Behemoth from the netherworld, but is dragged down to Hell with it when the hero destroys the control crystal.
The hero returns home the victor and begets a royal lineage, all charged with protecting the secrets of Castle Shadowgate.
The most recent being this weenie, Prince Erik. He's just been informed that his father, the erstwhile King, has been assassinated.
Though as soon as he makes it home, he is arrested. The assassin framed him for the murder! The real killer is probably that sinister vizier guy! I've seen Aladdin!
Erik's younger sister Elizabeth knows he is innocent, and surreptitiously hands him an item as he is thrown in prison.
Beyond Shadowgate's two buttons lets you duck and punch, which isn't going to get me out of this cell any time soon. Time to test a few other buttons.
Most of the adventure game elements are directed by the Select button, of all things, including checking inventory and switching an icon from "look" to "interact with" to "use current item".
Using the matchstick Liz gave us, we start a fire and entice a guard in here. One swift punch to the back of the head later, and we're officially on a jailbreak.
Just had to pick up the guard's keys (and his bucket) and use them on the door to escape. Simple enough.
There's a couple guards patrolling the hallway when I get out, but they're mysteriously zapped in the face by this floating ball.
Which turns out to be the ghost of Erik's dead dad, King Aronde. He claims he'll keep an eye on us, which presumably is to say he'll be watching us die over and over. Eating ghost popcorn.
Checking the other rooms, I immediately interrupt something personal. Sorry! I'll see myself out.
This one had a guard in it. I'm starting to think that a medieval jail might be a dangerous place.
Oh hey, Death. Long time no see, buddy.
As if knowing how easy it is to die in this game, the developers very kindly installed a save system that lets you save anywhere. On multiple slots, even.
I couldn't get anything out of this fellow. I couldn't even steal his sweet green jammies.
A hole! I bet there's something awesome in here.
Yes! A corrosive slime that immediately kills me. Just what I always wanted.
Further to the right just leads to even more laughing guards. I think I'll try those first rooms again.
You can punch the torturer to death, though it's not easy to do without getting lashed a whole lot, and he can take more hits than you can. Best tactic I've found is to treat this game like Double Dragon and try to get close to them using the back/foreground to stay out of their range. I try talking to this guy (he gets out a single "Rosebud!". Cute) but I can't seem to do anything for him yet. I'll come back for you, my friend.
Likewise, the single guard in here isn't quite so powerful if you find a way around him. I grab this pepper from the table. It's not a sword, but it's a culinary weapon at least?
Jeez, I was gone three minutes. I guess I didn't notice the oven underneath the chair.
Getting less fond of all the skeletons, I sneak past the two guards in the corridor and get in this entirely new room with a skeleton in it. Could this be the exit?
Only one way to find out!
Oh, c'mon!
Right, let's just keep walking past these doors. Surely there's a way out somewhere?
I find a comely lass manacled to a wall. I manage to figure out that this big skull stick is a lever, finally.
And... she turned into this thing. At least it didn't kill me. Probably will later, though.
Whoa, an actual guy prisoner, not a monster or a skeleton.
He bugs out as soon as I tell him he can leave, and I get a free paddlebat out of it.
I can presumably distract a creature (of any age) with this. Still something vaguely anachronistic about it though.
This room has... nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Moving on, then.
I would like to get down this trapdoor, but there's a problem. This deer demon (deermon?) doesn't seem happy to see Erik, and I daren't get any closer. I would stand here and taunt him for a while, except I suspect I already know what this game does to smug players.
Remembering that there was another lever in the big hole room, I push it and drop the skeleton down the hole. The big plant can just munch of that instead for all I care.
I show him the full moon as I make the possibly unwise decision to squeeze through this pipe. There's only one other exit in this room, and it didn't go so well last time.
...and drop into a room with this weird scaly, spinny thing.
That... wow. I guess I'm not supposed to get in its way. The thing almost bisected me.
Escaping to the right leads me to this picturesque chasm. I suspect I might be in Shadowgate proper now.
Well this seems harmless enough.
Oh... crap.
Okay, so going right is out. What's to the left? This neat little wooden elevator.
Apparently Shadowgate is steam-powered. And the anachronisms keep on coming. Well, it has been several centuries since the first game, in all fairness.
Aww, I found this hungry little dinosaur guy. He latches onto my leg playfully as-
...Dammit. I think I'm done for today.

Beyond Shadowgate doesn't give you a whole lot of information about its surroundings, and I think adding combat to the game is ultimately detrimental because it's never quite clear if you're meant to avoid fights, meant to puzzle your way around them or meant to take out certain creatures because they need to go away before you can do something else in the area (that item on the ground near the caterpillar thing, for instance, won't allow itself to be picked up while the creature still lives). I'm also not clear what repercussions I'll be suffering by letting that she-beast wild, or letting that guy in the torture chair die. If it turns out to be one of those cases where I've made the game permanently unwinnable, that's not going to be fun for me. Especially if all the save slots get recorded over after such a stalemate event has already occurred.

Still, the game doesn't look too bad and it definitely keeps within the spirit of the original. It's interesting to note that the most recent Shadowgate remake, the ones the GB guys just checked out, already has a sequel in the works which it teased after the end credits: a sequel named "Beyond Shadowgate". It seems like an entirely original game, but you never know...

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Octurbo: Last Alert

It's been a Metal Gear sort of day around here, what with the new bonus edition of Metal Gear Scanlon and my impulse purchase of the MGS HD Collection (I gotta stay one step ahead of those guys, it's important for some reason). As such, for today's Octurbo I'm playing what I can only describe as elaborate Metal Gear fan-fiction. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest there was some back and forth going on here with this game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which was released the following year.

Last Alert (Red Alert in Japan) is a military-themed multi-directional top-down shooter from Japan Telenet (specifically Shin-Nihon Laser Soft, a subsidiary of theirs that focused on anime games for the TG-CD), like Commando or Ikari Warriors. It's actually not too bad in that capacity, either; the stages are fair, have plenty of power-ups and health refills, the bosses are diverse and it's even an RPG of sorts, letting your protagonist go up in rank after performing so many kills and mission objectives. The music's good too. From a purely mechanical perspective alone, I could easily recommend this game to fans of this genre.

Of course, Last Alert's claim to fame, or infamy at least, is its story and presentation. A commando unit gets wiped out by the mysterious Force Project: a group of mercenaries and terrorists bent on world domination. A shadowy government organization employs Guy Kazama, the bereaved brother of the leader of the commando unit, to go after them. What follows are a bunch of Rambo-esque missions into enemy territory that get wilder and more nonsensical as the game progresses. These cutscenes are all presented in the customary TG-CD anime style and the voiceovers are... well. Beyond mere words to describe. Suffice it to say, there's a reason Last Alert appears on a lot of "worst dubs" lists.

Nobody Can Screencap My Feelings!

"We put you up front because you're the only one with eyes. Stay frosty."
But oh no, treachery is afoot. The commando team is betrayed!
Even the leader guy buys it, albeit in a very PG-13 way. Platoon this ain't.
The culprits are these four jerks. Clockwise from top left: Chairman Steve, Mr Lee, Dr. Garcia and Colonel Kadat. Yes, before you ask, Mr. Lee has a racist voice.
The Force Project's logo is this big Jesus skeleton grasping the world. See what I mean about the Metal Gear influences?
"The only guy who can stop them? Him. Guy Kazama." "This guy, Kazama?" "No, Guy Kazama."
Welcome to Last Alert! You ain't seen nothing yet.
Here's the main Guy (sorry, I'll stop) in the graveyard. "I always thought we'd do everything together, even die." Suicide pacts are a hell of a thing, kids.
Agreeing to take down Force Project, Kazama does the Commando kitting out scene. We've been doing Octurbo-CD for four days and this is already the second Commando homage.
I guess it's the first Fist of the North Star reference though. Kazama looks ready to explode some heads.
I like these map screens. Each stage seems to have its own little diorama.
So this is Last Alert. Fairly Commando (the Capcom Arcade game this time, not the movie) so far.
Objects have height, but it's never completely clear what you can "shoot over". These barrels don't offer too much protection, for instance. At least they don't explode.
I just leveled up! Going up in rank confers all sorts of bonuses. It's just a simple health boost this time, but I'll get stronger weapons eventually too.
Health packs are the most useful pick-up. It's vital to maintain your Vital.
The first boss is this guy with a hostage. As far as I can tell, there's no way to hurt the hostage or get him killed. That's how to do a hostage fight.
Getting a bit battered by the constant gunfire, I bust out one of my sub-weapons. These are finite power-ups that sometimes drop from enemies. I try to save them for bosses, but they're handy for when you're surrounded too. The flamethrower's not actually that useful here, because you need to be near the boss and that puts you closer to his constant bullet output.
Well, that's good to know. I'm impressed they didn't typo any of this given how little attention they gave to the voiceover script, which sounds as if it had been put through Babelfish a few times.
Stage 1-2's a little more open than the previous area. I've got a wide open space and have to find the eight spots it wants me to blow up before moving onward.
X marks the spot. I'm not quite sure how the outside wall is a critical area, but at least I didn't have to go too far to find this one.
More power-ups. The grenades require a certain amount of distance, which makes them useful for bosses that don't move around much. The rockets are heat-seekers, so they're good for whatever situation.
I don't even have to aim this shit. It's awesome.
Wait, are these stealth bombers or Decepticons? Why do they have red-tinted windshields?
My favorite sub-weapon are these little Option guys. They fire when you do and even block hits for you.
All eight bombs are planted, so now it's time to depart. Fortunately, there's no indication of any time limit. I daren't risk it, all the same.
Now, I know I've made some facetious Metal Gear comparisons, but I think having the first boss be a gun-toting guy with a hostage and the second as a tank where the gunner is the real target is fairly far removed from MGS.
It takes a few seconds before the gunner shows up, however. It's actually a small mercy, since it lets you get used to dodging the tank's main cannon before adding the extra wrinkle of the gunner's constant machine gun fire. Since you only have half the screen to move around in, this is one of those boss fights you want to end quickly with some power-ups.
My colleague is a pretty sneaky sort, turns out. I swear I didn't see him once while in the hangar.
So yeah, even though this map looks like it might have a whole bunch of areas, this is the final one for Stage 1.
It's a forced side-scroller no less. Nothing fancy, just a run for the exit.
These guys are not happy you blew up all their airplanes though, so there's a last ditch attempt to murder you as you run for the airplane. Now it's starting to get a little Goldeneye.
Eventually, you catch up to the stealth plane (how fast are you running?) and can hop on to complete the stage.
Phew, short game. Thanks for sticking with it to the end, everyone!
Oh wait, more story.
"Damn you, you won't get away with... wow, those look comfortable as hell. That's some amazing stitch-work too. Where'd you buy these?"
The giant with the incongruously soft voice announces that the man is now the prisoner of Force Project. I guess blowing up one hangar wasn't going to be enough, was it?
Meanwhile, Secret Government Man and Anime Lady puts Kazama on the next flight north to go...
... RESCUE THE PRESIDENT. Sorry, just wanted to end on a MGS-style spoiler. I'm done playing now, for serious.

That's Last Alert for you. You really do need the voiceovers to get the most out of it, which is why I'll include a link to a commentary on the full game by those Retsupurae rascals Diabeetus and Slowbeef. It's a fun watch, and the game's a bit longer than you might expect. Also, if Hideo Kojima didn't borrow a few elements from this game's story for his famous series, I'll eat my green beret. Or maybe a raspberry beret. Or maybe just some raspberries (they're in season now!).

Last Alert, remember when I said I'd LP you last? I... may have been a little economical with the truth. A thousand pardons for the falsehood.

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Octurbo: Bonk III: Bonk's Big Adventure

Before we get too much further with Octurbo-CD, we ought to revisit a little bald friend of ours. I covered the first two Bonk games last year, so it feels only fitting that we tackle his third and final (well, as far as the TurboGrafx is concerned) adventure for the system, Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure. Fortunately for our purposes, it was published as both a HuCard game and as an enhanced TurboGrafx-CD game, so we'll be checking out the latter version. Oddly enough, the CD version has no Japanese equivalent. My guess is that the TurboDuo crowd were reaching for new releases at that point: 45 licensed games total isn't a particularly impressive library.

Bonk became the de facto mascot for the PC Engine having been a character designed specifically for that purpose by developers Hudson Soft -- in Japan, he is known as "PC Genjin", where "genjin" means "primitive man". It may be a dumb pun, but it's easy to remember a character so nominally tied to their console of origin. To Hudson's credit, they attempted to create a platformer hero as distinct as possible, distancing itself from the obvious benchmark Mario in much the same way as Sega's Sonic did. Bonk has minimal jumping ability, but he has an array of offensive abilities like his trademark head bonk and various powered-up forms as well as a means to climb up walls and waterfalls. Stages in Bonk tend to be a little more open-ended for the sake of collectibles and secrets too.

I feel the new additions to Bonk III specifically are so minor that I might as well describe them in the screenshots themselves. And, of course, there's the new addition of redbook audio too.

The Little Round-Headed Buffoon That is Bonk

Welcome to- Oh, whoops. Sorry little guy. I guess this is a TurboDuo game after all.
Welcome to- Oh hell, it's this asshole again. What was his name?
Right, right. Welcome to King Drool III: King Drool the Third!
Bonk's having none of that. Yeah, I know, I see him, he's very big.
Welcome to Bonk III: Bonk's Big Adventure! For reals this is the last welcome.
Immediately after starting, we bump into Huey from the first game. He hasn't relapsed or anything, he just seems to be hanging out.
So the big gimmick of Bonk 3, so to speak, is that Bonk can grow in size. Like the super big mushrooms of more recent Mario games, Bonk's considerably stronger in this form. It's only temporary though. Kind of a more visually arrested form of the usual Starman invincibility.
Of course, there is a counter-side to this: the shorter Bonk form can fit through smaller spaces and will return to normal size once hurt. He's not actually any weaker in this form -- no bouncing off enemies or anything -- so it's entirely advantageous. Well, except your vertical jump is lower than ever.
Bonk still takes his rather straightforward approach to climbing walls. Always brush and floss, kids, and maybe someday you can scale a vertical surface with your teeth.
Your guess is as good as mine here.
All right, fine: Bonk still gets angrier whenever he eats meat, giving him even more offensive options. His ground pounds now freeze enemies and, as you can see, he can breathe fire for some reason.
I... I guess we're going ahead now?
Here's some of that freeze ground pounding in action. It also effects jumping those flame whatsits that are the bane of anyone playing a Bowser's Castle stage, so that's handy.
I got smushed by a falling block enemy and turned into a crab. Crab-Bonk's not a particularly dexterous form, but he shares the same smallness benefit as tiny Bonk. I wish Bonk could let us in on how he magically turned into a crustacean, but I guess he's being a little shellfish.
I came across a bonus stage by checking out a dead end. The goal of these is to reach the end, of course, but you also want to grab as many of those smiley faces as possible. All will become clear.
Of course, I have no idea where I'm supposed to go. There's plenty of stuff to pick up even if you do go down the wrong pipe repeatedly.
Bonk can't bite his way up every wall: solid walls like these bricks would be heck on his dental work. He can use repetitive flying head bonks to sort of wall-jump his way up, however.
1-2's a bit more of a maze than the first stage, but the game's fairly generous with health items to find. It's no big deal if you get a little lost.
Apparently 1-3 is the prehistoric version of Storage Wars. Stoneage Wars? I'll workshop that.
This bonus stage is a cross between Rampage and "Oh! My car!".
I mean, I suck at it, but it's still neat in concept.
We're all aboard the good ship HMS Anachronism. This stage got weird.
At least these badass skull elevators are back. Looks like we have a boss fight on our hands.
This stompy robot fellah ain't so tough. You need to stay away from his feet, but his head and underside are fair game. I retained my shorter form, making the latter option far more palatable.
Destroying the central part releases this upset looking guy. I'm sorry I broke your stompy robot little guy! Man, not even Robotnik's this big of a baby.
So, the smileys. If you collect enough, you play any one of these bonus stages. We've seen the first two already, so let's try Sky Diving. Here's hoping the game turns into Pilotwings.
Nah, not really. Sky Diving teaches you the importance of the mid-air flip, which can keep Bonk airborne for quite some time if you keep doing it. It makes collecting all these items easier, at any rate. If you get enough smileys, you can even try another bonus stage.
This green guy doesn't look like the sharpest improvised tool in the Neolithic archaeological dig site. I suspect the dinosaurs died out because they were all mentally deficient.
Honestly, I should be stopping now, but this stage is already fascinating. Is that a moth in a giant trash can? Where is this?
Yeah, definitely quitting time.

So that's Bonk 3. It's really more of the same, but it still holds up as well as its predecessors. I think the reason for why that is is because no game really tried to do what Bonk did before or after its heyday. 2D platformers underwent this odd evolution where the big games industry came to this spurious conclusion that they were no longer relevant: they had been usurped by 3D platformers, evidenced by how games of that format outside of the big mascot franchises continued to do less and less well. In actuality, and this is what all these Indie 2D platformer developers later discovered, the real reason 2D platformers went temporarily extinct is because no-one was making NEW ones. They were simply regurgitating the same tired elements of all the Mario also-rans that had come before and, with the occasional exception like Klonoa, the 2D format just wasn't seeing any innovative ideas.

So now we have a whole bunch of super successful Indie 2D platformers (which are getting a little a stale again, admittedly) and the reason is because they're all trying new things. Bonk persists because what it did still feels fresh and original.

Anyway, enough ranting about platformers. I don't have much to offer musically this time, since YouTube isn't being co-operative with finding soundtrack vids, so instead here's a Long Play of the CD version. You can enjoy the CD-quality music of the game with the added benefit of watching all the above screenshots in motion, kinda.

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Octurbo: Lords of Thunder

I'll admit it, when you don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' when it comes to the TurboGrafx-CD, it's hard to select a list of games you really need to check out. I'm thankful for the few suggestions offered so far; though it's easy enough to pick what look like winners from the 45 CD games released in the US (Protip: probably best to avoid the ports and licensed games), the 417 PCE-CDROM² games are a bit more of a jungle. My point being, is that I'll be checking out a lot of games I'm only tangentially aware of, if at all.

Lords of Thunder ("Winds of Thunder" in Japan) is not one of those games. I mentioned the CD format's capacity for improved music via redbook audio, and Lords of Thunder has one of the greatest VGM soundtracks I've ever heard. I hear it's sort of legendary how metal this game is. I'll be sure to link to a few tracks at the end, like before.

As for the game itself, it's one of those horizontal shoot 'em ups that came at a time when developers were introducing to the genre what I call "cinematic uncertainty", a phrase I used to describe Donkey Kong Country Returns' difficulty. What this means is that weird, unexpected and enormous shit will just appear for dramatic reasons and completely wreck you if you aren't able to anticipate it. While stages become a lot more exciting, they also depend far more heavily on memorization before you're able to conquer them reliably. If a random gigantic dragon appears out of nowhere, you need to know that the guy is coming and prepare accordingly, perhaps by hovering around the small part of the screen that its colossal body doesn't take up and jamming on that fire button, dropping a few bombs too for good measure. The visuals and music together make Lords of Thunder something of an intense experience, but it's clear I'll need to replay stages several times before I fully get into the swing of things. There's more, of course, but I'll save that for the screenshots themselves.

Instead, let me just ask you this: Are you ready to rock?

Lords of Guitar Solos

The game starts on this mysterious doodad and six gem-like sigils that appear to surround it. I suspect there might be six bosses and a big final boss. No, I didn't read the synopsis.
Ah, so peaceful, so pastoral. This isn't metal at all!
Yeah, that's more like it! Obelisks and maelstroms. Throw up those horns!
One anime decides he/she's had enough. He/she's really more into the gentler prog rock stuff, I'm guessing.
And takes to the skies in his/her standard issue flying jet armor and axe-sword. You know, normal knight stuff.
Turns out a few weirdos have been collecting under the giant monolith.
Seven of them, to be precise. Wait, was I off by one with my earlier prediction?
And then this priest dude summons the bad guy from Krull and it all starts getting a little too real.
Like "Holy shit that guy is big" real.
Welcome to Lords of Thunder! I don't need no configurations to know how to rock! (No seriously, is there a difficulty setting?) (Yes, but Normal is the lowest.) (Fukken metal!)
Well, it looks like I have a few options for where I want to start. I'll stick with the default, this deserty place. Seems like I might be decent at it?
These armors, turns out, define your weapon load-outs. I figured fire has to be the most damaging. I mean, makes sense, right?
There's also a shop before each stage. You can get a boost to health (useful if you barely scraped through the last boss fight), shields that take a few hits on your behalf (useful if you're going into a stage blind), power boosts that increase your weapon power from the offset, an additional bomb, elixirs which I think work like the fairies in Legend of Zelda and additional continues. You can't have too many of those, but they're a bit pricey right now.
The Fire Armor gives me this neat spread shot as the default. If I keep picking up power boosts, it'll change into something even more damaging.
In addition, I want to be collecting these gems for the next shop visit. It's easy to get distracted while grabbing them and get hit, though.
For instance, this sudden antlion is one of those things you ought to be giving your undivided attention to. As well as being the biggest threat on the screen, if you can kill it fast enough you'll get even more goodies. It's what I was saying earlier about playing a stage a few times so you know when these larger types show up.
Better watch out for the giant dragon crawler tanks too, while I'm at it.
The desert stage then takes a turn for the vertical as I fall through this hole. Those spiky guys are mining robots that are constantly falling from above, so I'm trying to stay away from that half of the screen.
The power-ups (you can see one there, they look like yellow stars with blue gems) will eventually upgrade your weapon. At the top right, you can see your health (blue pips) and power level (red pips). If it goes yellow, your weapon suddenly gets a lot more badass. You lose power level whenever you get hit though, sort of like Cave Story (or a bunch of other shoot 'em ups for that matter).
This jumping knight dude just completely ruins my day. He's not quite a boss, but he's persistent and will often get behind you, making it hard to destroy him quickly.
I didn't survive. Instead, I'm trying out the green Earth Armor. It has far more ground game going on, perhaps obviously enough, and the torrents of flame it summons are far more damaging to the low-lying enemies around here.
Though I got a lot further with this armor, this boss is kind of ridonkulous. If its fire breath doesn't get you, its lightning sword or pincer weiner will.
I'm trying a different stage instead, the aquatic Auzal. I also have the yellow Wind Armor on, which fires relatively weak lightning bolts out. I suspect this might be the armor to have if you're good at holding onto power-ups.
Whoa! What the hell, damn guy!
I didn't like Auzal. I'm trying the much safer-looking volcano zone Llamarada. Maybe Jeff Minter designed this stage?
The blue Water Armor is similar to the Fire Armor, but the spread is more focused. Having shots appear directly above and below you has a useful defensive aspect too. This is presumably the suit to wear if you're a wuss, like me.
Let's... let's not go into the volcano, guys. I'm very hurt.
It doesn't help that I'm immediately accosted by whatever the hell this thing is.
Daaaamn, died again.
You have a timer to make a decision here. It's the candles; they go out one by one. Honestly, though, unless you've saved up enough for an extra continue to replace the one you've just spent, there's no point if you still haven't beaten a single boss. It's not likely I'll be doing that today. I kinda suck at shoot 'em ups, if that's not clear.

Lords of Thunder is amazing, but at the same time requires a level of dedication I'm not quite prepared to lend to a single item in a daily series. I did get to the boss of that first stage though, so I bet I could beat him with enough perseverance and caution. Caution isn't really the sort of adjective that suits Lords of Thunder, though, as you'll come to understand once you listen to its music below.

While I do have a few more shoot 'em ups on the docket (there's so dang many, you can't swing an Option around without hitting one), they're all a little less serious than Lords of Thunder. And considerably less metal.

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Octurbo: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo/Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

So begins a new series of Octurbo. Figured I might as well start with one of the best acclaimed PCE-CD originals, from one of the most prolific video games series that still sorta exists. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released in 1993, but while it looked like a SNES game (like 1995's Dracula X, coincidentally enough. That one was based on this game) it certainly didn't sound like one. The game had Redbook audio, which essentially means the music was encoded like it would be on a regular audio CD that you could, once upon a time, buy from a store without feeling like a 50 year old. Now, I'm plenty fond of the chiptune stuff, but full CD quality Castlevania music is something to behold even now, and it must've seemed insane to hear it in a video game for the first time those twenty plus years ago.

Rondo follows the adventures of a new Belmont, Richter, as he chases after a freshly resurrected Lord Dracula in order to rescue his kidnapped fiancée Annette. Along the way, he can rescue a few other damsels in distress, but the game keeps them well-hidden for the sake of adding a bit of longevity; you have to seek them out through alternate paths and the like, and the game's not fully complete unless he saves all four, including Annette. There's a few other novel features too, but I'll get into them in the screenshots below. Importantly, this game is the direct predecessor of Symphony of the Night, perhaps the best Castlevania game ever made -- it can be a toss-up between that one and this one, depending on who you ask.

I'm half wondering if I should've left Rondo of Blood for last, partly so I could cover a horror game closer to Halloween and partly because I have to assume that it's all downhill from here. Still, you really ought to start with a showstopper. I'm sure that's how that phrase goes.

Rondo. It's Got What Vampires Crave.

I'm going to have to come to terms with the fact that every Turbo/PCE-CD game opens with an anime cutscene. That's a pretty nice shot of a gothic cathedral though.
The audio in this scene is German, with Japanese subtitles. Essentially, women are getting sacrificed by cultists led by that bad mother of a priest Shaft. Apparently this is what brings Dracula back.
Dracula (or Dracula's essence?) escapes to his eponymous domicile as the German voiceover intones something about fledermaus, and I'm suddenly back in middle-school trying to remember my German words for animals. For the record: a fledermaus, of the play Die Fledermaus, is a bat. Apparently this game has something to do with bats, huh.
Welcome to Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo! Oh god, that stupid Run button. All my Octurbo memories are flooding back.
Despite Rondo of Blood being one of the last of the "linear" Castlevanias, it's still a bit complex. It uses the branching paths of Dracula III, but expands the concept to include hidden damsels to rescue and alternate bosses to fight. As such, the game saves your progress and lets you retry stages to search for roads less traveled.
But first! We have more anime to watch. Richter pores over a map he downloaded from GameFAQs and considers his next move as the excellent theme "Overture", based on the Stage 1 and Richter's own leitmotif "Divine Bloodlines", plays.
"Dammit, I'm not going to remember where all the heart upgrades are by memory. I need that space to memorize the awesome speech I intend to give Dracula. To hell with this, I'm out. Where'd I leave my headband?"
Meanwhile, these colossal beasts are stomping around the nearby towns because terrible things happen to people for no reason when they live this close to Castlevania.
Animes are just running for their lives in every direction.
Can no-one save this peaceful burg from utter devastation?!
Oh yeah, I forgot about that dude.
Richter gets kitted out Commando style before charging into the fray. This is already the dumbest and best thing. Did we need to see the special vampire-killing boots he wears? Multiple shots of the headband?
And then he just kind of whips some skeletons in cool guy action poses and the intro ends.
Honestly, this seems like a much cooler way to start your game. Richter hurries through the night on his wagon while it rains cats and Deaths. I mean, dogs.
Nah, I meant Deaths. The Grim Reaper shows up to dissuade us from preventing the resurrection of his master, much like he'll do with Alucard in the sequel. That's a jaunty new pilgrim hat he's sporting there.
Richter doesn't feel like getting deterred today, though, and gives that old psychopomp what for.
A short cutscene takes over and Grimmy decides to shoot this thing at us. I figured this would be a Ripley/Super Metroid scenario, where he'd leave us half-dead and run off laughing. Nah, I just batted the thing out of the air and Death just kind of flew away dejected.
I suspect I might be a little too late to save this town. Most of it appears to be on fire.
Now the game begins proper. This first area is fairly gentle: these ape-like skeletons don't move particularly fast, giving us all the time in the world to catch our bearings and figure out what the buttons do. We can also practice stair climbing here, generally the bane of any Castlevania player. Well, them and Medusa Heads. Frequently simultaneously.
It's not quite obvious until this point but this is actually one of the towns from Castlevania II (& III), albeit in somewhat poorer shape. I wonder how all those colored crystals and laurels are helping them now?
The sub-weapons are still here, of course. I've always liked the axe for its utility and for being able to hit enemies and candles previously out of reach. Not always the best option for bosses though.
This is a really good looking game. I mean, maybe Super Castlevania IV just pips it with all its Mode 7 wizardry, but I definitely like the look of this conflagrant 18th century European town.
We meet a few of those colossi from the intro, which turn out to be some decidedly bumpy golems. They aren't that much tougher than regular monsters, really, though you do need to jump to damage them.
There's a neat parallax shot of Dracula's castle as you run across this screen, and you can spot a winged beast hurrying past you.
That winged beast would be the Wyvern, the first boss. Well, the first boss of this path anyway.
The boss spends a lot of time at the top of the screen, occasionally breathing fire and swooping down, and its during the parts where he swoops down that you can damage it with the Vampire Killer. Or you can just throw axes at the guy. It's the game teaching you early on that getting a specific sub-weapon and grabbing a bunch of hearts can be a workable solution to any boss, no matter how difficult they may initially seem.
Not that this guy is particularly tough even without the axes. The flame breath scatters randomly, making it hard to avoid, but it's a fairly predictable boss fight.
Why do I suddenly have a craving for BBQ chicken? Oh right, because BBQ chicken is awesome.
Like all Castlevania games prior to this one, an orb trans(sylvania)(vam)pires above your head and you can jump into it while doing a sweet pose.
I got the jumping part down, but I got kinda stuck crouching in mid-air. I'll give that one a "6" for style.
Stage 2 ought to be familiar, as it's the approach to Castlevania itself. We see two ravens in the top corner discussing between themselves what an ear-pulling contest has to do with anything.
Birds remain a consistent pain in the neck as they flap around you on random tangents, making them hard to hit with the decidedly horizontally-inclined whip. I'd rather not waste an axe either, since there's a lot of birds to get through. Just one of those things you need to practice.
I have to wonder why they let the drawbridge down for every determined do-gooder that comes along. Or, come to think of it, install all those save point rooms. I suspect Dracula's failing is his overconfidence.
We're firmly entrenched in classic Castlevania territory, as the Welcome Zombies march out to greet us.
One of the late-game bosses gets a little impatient and decides to charge us here and now. He seems to take damage from the whip, but it's a better idea to just run to the other side of the room, away from the rampaging behemoth.
Apparently this guy's already having a bad day. Just saying, you might want to stop before you run into the-
Oh, well, never mind. I guess I won't have to check it for secret alcoves now.
While running from the monstrosity, I picked up this key. It acts as a sub-weapon but doesn't actually do anything (you can still hit enemies with it though, which makes me wonder if someone hasn't tried to fight a boss this way).
I discard the key for something slightly more useful, this Cross of Coronado. It works as a boomerang, letting you hit enemies twice. It also has a pretty sweet Item Crash.
Ah, Wall Chicken. Where would the Belmont clan be without you? We've even added you to our coat of arms. "Three roasted chickens on plates, on a field of red."
More classic Castlevania monsters, living in the pool beneath the entryway as always. I appreciate that they stay a murky blue/green color before turning bright orange after jumping out of the water. Kinda like lobsters.
Ah. So this locked door is probably where that key goes. The key I left behind for the Cross of Coronado. Well, I lost today, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I forgot to demonstrate the Item Crash earlier, but it's essentially a big showy super move you can do when trapped in a corner. Eats through hearts like no-one's business, so it's best as a reserve thing. Each sub-weapon has its own variation.
I admit, I did spend a few minutes trying to get up here after grabbing that chicken. Turns out you can just go around. Of course, the key's no longer here.
The music changes ominously while passing through this room. The game throws you a bone and gives you the holy water, which works well for the next boss.
Talking of bones, what is that vaguely lupine shape in the background?
That would be the Werewolf. Pro-tip: don't stand in the center of the screen, because that's where he lands.
I didn't catch him flipping and somersaulting around because I was too busy trying to stay alive, but Wolfie's one of those bosses you pray that you can get trapped into a pattern, because it's a tough battle of attrition otherwise. He's just too fast for you to predict what he'll do reliably. The little naked dude he turns into before dying seems a bit gratuitous.
No fancy mid-air orb catching this time. I've seen enough balls flapping in the wind for one night.
Speaking of Wolfman nards, I should probably wrap this up and put it away. We've seen enough of what Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is about.

Before we wrap up, however, here's a few bonuses:

In 1992, when the Turbo-Duo was released, the RAM that was used to run CD games was also increased. This resulted in the "Super System Card", which older TurboGrafx-CD systems would need in order to play newer games, sort of like that Expansion Pak for the N64. Because Rondo of Blood came out after 1992 it was one of those games that required the upgrade, usually referred to as "SuperCD" games on their box art to prevent people from buying games their older systems couldn't play.
If you tried to run Rondo of Blood on a TurboGrafx-CD without that Super System Card, you'd get this little practical joke. Richter is a super-deformed blob man who looks like something out of an early Treasure game.
The only enemies are these ridiculous triangular purple goons.
After about 30 seconds, you'd reach this screen where the poster behind you informed you that you needed the Super System Card in order to play the real game (either that or the Super CD-ROM2 system, which came with the Super System Card built-in). But wait, who is that heroine bouncing alongside Richter?
Well, if you weren't an idiot like me and actually kept the key, you could unlock that door we saw earlier and intrude on this awkward scene.
Trapped inside the forcefield is Maria Renard, sister of Annette, and would-be demon hunter. A petite blonde vampire slayer? Now I've seen everything.
Richter rescues her from Shaft, the purple-robed fellow we saw earlier. He manages to catch her without her sprite changing, which is impressive.
Yes, Japan, I'm sure that's how twelve year olds are built. Good grief.
Anyway, Maria refuses to leave her sister in the lurch, and so promises to help Richter out whether he wants her to or not.
And now she's a permanent second character. You can quit the game at any point (it saves automatically after each stage, don't forget) and switch over to Maria for a change of pace.
As you might expect from a tiny 12-year-old girl, she's considerably more powerful than Richter.
Her default attack is sending out a pair of doves, which (like Richter's Cross sub-weapon) hits twice as they fly out and return to Maria's hand. Though Maria has less health and gets knocked back a lot further, her increased damage output makes the exchange worth it. A glass cannon, in so many words. She has her own set of sub-weapons too with different behaviors, which means double the number of tactical options for bosses.
Also her wall chickens are wall sundaes. Cute!

And that's Rondo of Blood, or at least the first half of it. Well, the first quarter if you don't count all those alternate paths. There's a lot more to the game than meets the floating eye, it seems.

One of the new things I'm doing with this season of Octurbo is adding a few links to the game's music, if it stands out. In most cases it will. The redbook audio element of CD-based gaming is what a lot of developers jumped on when considering ways to take advantage of the new format, and so a lot more thought and money went into producing soundtracks.

Here's a smattering of tracks from the few stages I played of Rondo of Blood. It's mostly classic Castlevania music that has been dolled up to the nines:

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