We're going old-school Namco today with the PC Engine remake of The Tower of Druaga, the godfather of all Japanese action RPGs. For those unaware: The Tower of Druaga, or "Druaga no Tou" since this version was never officially localized, is a maze action game with an RPG flair in which you simply need to find a key and exit the level. However, choosing to take the direct route makes things very difficult later on, and the real path to success is to solve a series of obtuse puzzles which involve some oddly OCD requisites like killing all of a single enemy type or walking around the stage in a clockwise pattern. The treasures you earn from meeting these special conditions make the rest of the game substantially easier to cope with, as more and more difficult obstacles and enemies start to appear.
Perhaps understandably, western audiences weren't too eager to try doing random shit for hours in order to find a new shield or something, so the Tower of Druaga never really caught on over here. In Japan though, it was crazy successful and ended up becoming extremely influential. We probably wouldn't have the Legend of Zelda if it wasn't for this game (or if we did, it would probably look a lot different and didn't hide all its secrets behind random walls and rocks). This PCE port is a graphically enhanced remake that actually gives you hints before each level on how to find the treasure, but only on the first three difficulty settings.
Anyway, I think you get the idea. Druaga's a weird combination of a really primitive RPG (hey, the game was originally made in 1984, what do you expect?) and a puzzle game, but while its aged quite a bit it's still worth playing for its historical value. This PCE remake removes a lot of the arbitrary guessing BS and makes the game nicer to look at, but it's still the same experience at its core. It's kind of nuts that this game's approaching its 30th anniversary; maybe we'll see something from Namco Bandai soon to celebrate the occasion. "Druaga Championship Edition DX"?
While earlier home versions never left Japan, the Arcade game can be found in a large number of Namco Arcade compilations, many of which were released worldwide, as well as on Virtual Console. This particular remake seems to be unique to the PC Engine, but there's a translation patch out there on RomHacking.net (which is where I got the translation patches for Blue Blink and Lady Sword too). Oddest of all, if you play the first Tales of Destiny, there's an entire optional dungeon based on Tower of Druaga that has all kinds of useful items for the main game - they're just hidden in the same obtuse manner. Lastly, the Steam RPG Chantelise is kind of a modern interpretation of Tower of Druaga, splitting its focus between tough action RPG combat and meeting "how the hell was I supposed to know to do that?" conditions to make chests appear.
I'll go back to covering weird obscure shit soon, I promise.
All right, so that last Octurbo got a tad too salacious towards the end there. Perhaps I should actually start vetting these things before jumping in with the screenshot button. At any rate, let us all never speak of the Lady Sword incident again.
Moving right along, today we look at Bubble Bath Babes Dragon's Curse, part of the Wonder Boy dynasty and one of many TurboGrafx-16 adaptations of that series that underwent a few edits to get around Sega's inconvenient possession of the Wonder Boy license. Dragon's Curse is probably the least trifled with out of all those ports: a fairly straightforward conversion of the Master System/Game Gear game Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (and not to be confused with the other Wonder Boy III, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair). Dragon's Curse was renamed Adventure Island in Japan, despite having nothing to do with Hudson's axe-and-skateboards franchise. Well, besides the fact that Adventure Island was originally a graphical edit of the first Wonder Boy. You know what, I've explained this all once on the Wonder Boy wiki page, so just go check that out. It's nuts.
As for the game itself, it's a mix of a side-scrolling action RPG (though it's actually about as RPG-y as Neutopia) and a Metroidvania and was quite well regarded at the time. It's unfortunate that the Master System was more or less on the way out in all regions besides Europe and Brazil when the game came out, because it's probably the best thing on there. Wasn't a lot of competition, mind, but why diminish that accomplishment?
From Nudity to Cursing: This Feature Used to Be So Wholesome
And that's how the rest of Dragon's Curse goes. Your new forms act like Zelda items or Metroid upgrades: you can switch between them and each has a special application to allow you to pass through new areas. Recalling where the small passageways are, or where I needed to smash through some blocks, or underwater areas I couldn't swim through is the key to progressing, as well as procuring new heart containers and finding money caches. Plus, I can definitely appreciate any game that doesn't penalize you too badly for dying.
This is probably the most fun I've had with an Octurbo entry. It's a little disingenuous to call this a TurboGrafx-16 highlight considering it's a barely improved port of a Master System game, but there's a lot more craft and innovation on display here than in many other games I've covered so far. I mean, it is still cartoon fantasy Metroid at the end of the day, but I can definitely deal with that.
Well, today I was going to look at the sequel to Dungeon Explorer in order to continue this "sequels to TurboMento-12" angle I had going on, but it's a TG-CD game and thus a little outside the scope of this feature. I can't really ignore the CD games forever, though, because they're as much a part of TurboGrafx's legacy as its HuCard games. More so, perhaps, since it includes all the Valises and stuff like Rondo of Blood and Lords of Thunder. Think I'll save all that for next year's Octurbo, should I be crazy enough to go through all this again.
So instead today I'll be looking at a game called Lady Sword. I knew absolutely nothing about this game going in, beyond its ludicrous title and that it was one of a handful of PC Engine games listed in RomHacking.net's Translations section with the genre designation of "RPG". Good enough for me. Famous last words.
New From Remington: Lady Sword
So uh, this was actually a porn game? But with whole stretches of uninspired dungeon crawling to break up the girly pics? This has to be the oddest game I've covered for this system so far, and I recently played one where a magical blue donkey regularly flies in to save your bacon. I really can't recommend Lady Sword: The game just seems to throw random enemy after random enemy at you with no rhyme or reason or any attempt to balance the game's difficulty. Shining in the Darkness, which I last played a few months ago and came out a year before this game, is a much better example of what they're trying to do here.
It might be worth it for the sheer insanity alone. Some of those monster designs were really unique, and I have no idea what further adventures lie in store for our nameless swordsman, those two useless wizards with unpronounceable names, Tanya the giant floating head or the bevvy of scantily-dressed damsels that lie in wait in the upper floors of the tower. I'm pretty reluctant to find out, honestly.
Man, how excited am I to jump back into Neutopia? For those who didn't join us on the ludicrous 300+ screenshot journey last time, Neutopia is a quite blatant Legend of Zelda clone intended to give the TG-16 its own version of the green-clad adventure series. Neutopia II seems to be more of the same, though hopefully with a few improvements and, perish the thought, a bit more of its own personality to differentiate it a little from its clear inspiration and its many other imitators.
This one will be a little longer than most of these Octurbos, but we certainly won't be revisiting the madness that was the Neutopia TurboMento-12. I don't think I have it in me to screencap hundreds of NPCs stating the obvious again.
Never Bet Against Me Being Stupid, Part 2: A New Neutopia
I think that ought to suffice, then. Guess what? Neutopia II seems to be pretty much identical to the first one. I'm hoping the game is saving a few new tricks up its sleeve for later, but at the moment I can only predict another giant screenshot thread with much of the same content as the old one, give or take a ridiculous set of armor and a few new bosses. It does set up an interesting Tales of Destiny II angle with its "former game's hero in peril" opener, but then that plot point has been a JRPG staple since Dragon Quest III.
I dunno, I'm not super enthused to go through all of this again. It's not a bad game, because anything that resembles the Legend of Zelda this closely can't be, but I'm not going to put everyone through that horror again by LPing it. Next.
So the theme for week two is JRPGs, at least until I run out. My favorite genre is legendarily well represented on the Super Nintendo and fairly well catered towards on the Genesis too, but what about the TurboGrafx-16? Maybe it has some hidden gem that's the equivalent of Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. I mean, probably not, but it's worth checking what's out there anyway. Of course, I'm going to have to get a little creative with how I define a decent cut-off point in an RPG, but I suppose we'll fireball that slime when we draw near to it.
The first game on the list is NCS's Double Dungeons. I had absolutely no idea what to expect going in, so this ought to be a fun blog. Probably.
My Double Dungeons Get the Best of Me (Oooooh, Double Dungeons)
So that's the end of the first dungeon of Double Dungeons. Starting a new dungeon resets your level and equipment, as each one is constructed to be a standalone puzzle - kill weak enemies, go up levels, kill tougher enemies, earn gold to buy equipment, beat stronger enemies, buy best equipment, kill even more enemies, find the boss key and beat the boss. I can imagine this being utterly monotonous after... well, after the first dungeon, but it only gets worse:
Here's what the first dungeon (the one I just did) looks like. And here's what the final dungeon looks like. It's almost like one of those magic eye puzzles, only I don't have to stare at it for ten minutes before my brain starts hurting. That's a ludicrously enormous maze considering the required path to defeat is almost certainly identical to all the ones that came before it, at least according to those who have gotten that far.
Double Dungeons is an interesting idea. It reminds me a bit of Dungeon Hack, the Roguelike that uses Eye of the Beholder's engine, and Half-Minute Hero to an extent in that it kind of deconstructs the humble first-person dungeon crawler and turns it into some sort of odd puzzle game with a specific pattern to follow. But I can imagine that this would be a terrible game to try to play all the way through to the end, and an even worse one to LP. Moving on.
Rounding off a week of TG-16 staples we visit Hudson's big flagship series that has nothing to do with pyrotechnics: New Adventure Island. Oddly, considering how deeply involved Hudson was in the Turbografx-16 and much of its game library, this is the only outing of Master Higgins (or Meijin Takahashi, depending on your region) for the TG-16. It's a solid enough iteration in the series, releasing just after the first Super Nintendo game but before the last NES one, and largely sticks to its axe-flinging, fruit-eating roots. At least from what I played of it. But hey, we have a whole bunch of photographic evidence to support that:
The Name's a Misnomer; It's Actually More of an Adventure Peninsula
The Adventure Island games are, like Bonk, one of those early genre cornerstones that saw what Mario was doing and tried their own little angle on the same format. But just as was the case with the many variations of Tetris that never took off, there's no topping perfection. New Adventure Island is a solid platformer that, thankfully, does away with the strict life limit of its progenitor and basically lets you as continue as many times as you'd like, only ever losing your mid-stage checkpoint progress. The choice of new weapons with various abilities, a far cry from the first game's choices of crappy axes or slightly less crappy rocks, give it a neat Ghouls 'n Ghosts/Joe and Mac vibe too. It's an improvement on the first game in many ways, but doesn't sacrifice what made that game stand out beyond its unbearable difficulty. Still, it is odd that this is the only TG-16 game in the series. I guess being a TG-16 spin-off of a Nintendo series based on a Sega game is at least worthy of note.
Cadash is perhaps better known as an Arcade multiplayer action RPG, of which there aren't too many of outside of Shadow over Mystara and Gauntlet. It did receive a well acclaimed TG16 port, though, which appears to be quite faithful to the original cabinet, at least compared to the Mega Drive version. I haven't got MAME set up to make an informed case for or against it, so I'll give Taito the benefit of the doubt.
Though this first week was intended to get a few obvious TG16 staples out of the way, with a cursory explanation of why they won't be covered in detail, Cadash is one I might be reconsidering later on. That's if I ever figure out how to stop dying, I mean. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Keeping Up With the Cadash-er-ings (I'm Really Sorry for This One)
I forgot to cap it because I was too busy hating the universe and everything that exists within it, but Bob met an unfortunate demise on the following lava rock bridge trap before the boss and with him dies any motivation to keep playing. For now.
Cadash does have a certain proto-Dark Souls appeal to it, however, by the way it makes those first few experience levels come quick and easy: you get the sense with a little more patience and a bit of grinding, I'd be powering through that first dungeon and finding my way to a town where I might be able to upgrade my weapons/magic and buy a few herbs with all that gold I keep picking up. As a result, I don't feel like I'm quite done with this game, for better or worse. I'll put a big ol' asterisk next to it on the "TurboMento Maybe?" list.
I feel like I didn't play nearly enough of this to form a fair opinion, yet at the same time I feel like I've played way more than I would ever want to. Such is the paradox of the Alpha Zones.
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones is an example of what happens when you take an anime/manga with an established world (in this case the admittedly obscure Majin Eiyuuden Wataru) and try to recontextualize its characters, setting and lore through a very basic video game effigy. You get awful, bizarre products like Dragon Power or Street Combat. It also leads to aberrations like "Kid Ying" and "Doctor Yang". I'm not necessarily some Japanophile purist who insists everyone use "Aerith" and should always switch to the Japanese voice track when applicable, but all the same these games were made objectively worse by trying to separate themselves from their source material for the questionable benefit of a late-80s/early-90s western audience that had yet to encounter anime in any mainstream venue. It doesn't help that Keith Courage isn't a particularly good game either.
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones isn't actually all that bad. It has a very humane game over penalty, a curious system where you can grind during the easier Keith-on-foot stages to buy weapons and power-ups for the mech suit stages and the controls are reasonably responsive. These mech stages have been a little arbitrary so far, since the goal is to head downwards and that requires a lot of "leap of faith" dives into the darkness onto fun things like insta-death spikes and Cthulhu only knows what else. I don't doubt the game will ratchet up on the bullshit-o-meter as it finds innovative ways to make the game even more artificially difficult.
So overall Keith Courage is not terrible, but not exactly a convincing reason to buy a brand new console either. Here's the Kappa to this little adventure: if I want to Beta game, I going to have to be Delta better hand than this. Phi on you, I say! (I Nu, I Nu, these puns are Psi-worthy.)
Yep, I'm doing a screenshot LP of a pinball game. Spoilers: this might be a short one.
NAXAT/Compile's Alien Crush is widely regarded to be one of the better pinball video games for the TurboGrafx-16, if not the 16-bit era entirely. As will be immediately obvious, the game takes its artistic inspiration from H. R. Giger's xenomorph designs for the movie Alien.
I've always felt (and Alien Crush embodies this philosophy) that a video game version of pinball should be able to pull off tricks that a physical pinball table would be incapable of performing. It's taking advantage of the platform to present a real-life activity in a manner that cannot be enjoyed otherwise - it's why I much prefer, say, Mutant League Football over Madden, because the latter is just too close to watching a regular football game on TV (just with more wonky physics and fast food price-gouging).
There's a rival philosophy that states that a video game adaptation of a pinball table ought to be as close to the real thing as is humanly possible, but I figure you might as well find an actual pinball table to play on at that point. There are no pinball video games quite as visceral as the real thing, after all, with all its sounds and blinking lights and the tactile sense of moving the flippers and surreptitiously nudging the table. On the other hand, you're not paying hundreds of dollars for gear maintenance and carnauba wax for a simulation either.
Anyhoo, this is way too much pre-amble. Talking of visceral...
Alien Crush Sounds Like the Prequel to My Stepmother is an Alien
So, yeah, as is the case with shmups like Blazing Lazers (also a Compile joint!), this sort of genre doesn't lend itself well to lots of informative screenshots.
Pinball has its own set of esoteric jargon relating to score zones and combo multipliers into which I've never sufficiently invested myself to an extent where I can really start to appreciate these games, and specifically the difference between a really well conceived pinball game and a gimmicky one that's only maybe fun for a few minutes (which is all of them for me right now). But I can certainly respect any genre like pinball or MOBAs or MMOs or Monster Hunter or what have you that can inspire such devoted in-the-know discussion, even in spite of my own perpetual outsider status. It's how video games can simultaneously be an in-depth, dedicated hobby as well as light, ephemeral entertainment (and maybe art too, though I'm still not sure where I stand on that debate).
Anyway, sorry this one was so short. Felt I ought to cover Alien Crush, but had no idea how to do so without posting the same image of a table over and over and explaining what I did different each time. I bet that would've been a fun read.
JJ & Jeff is a reskinned (I'm not sure that nomenclature even applies here) version of Kato-chan and Ken-chan, an absurdist scatological platformer featuring two Japanese comedians/TV hosts that's largely known for its poop gags. It's also one of the most well-known TurboGrafx-16 games as a result, so it's perfect for a quick glance if not a full TurboMento-12. Because honestly, playing this game is kind of a chore.
I've Covered Some Crap Games, But This Takes the Urinal Cake
Kato-chan and Ken-chan isn't quite as awful as I'm letting on. It's a game that rewards experimentation and memorization and I can respect that aspect of it at least, if very few of its other prominent facets. You know, the ones involving butts.
It deserves acknowledgement though, and not just because it's "that one infamous TurboGrafx-16 game with all the farts". It takes risks and has a strong comedic auteur sensibility to it which sets it apart from the many generic platformers that were around in the 16-bit era. Far too many games of that era were content to ape Super Mario Bros. without trying to forge their own path. Of course, I really don't like playing it, which is perhaps a bigger detriment than just being a bit derivative. Next game.