Man Week finally draws to a close as we take a look at ICOM Simulations' Ghost Manor, which kind of has the word "Man" in it, kind of. ICOM's best known for their MacVenture series of early point and clicks: Deja Vu, Shadowgate and Uninvited. So this should be a fairly cerebral, fairly story-based, fairly unfair adventure game based on the developer's history, right? It's probably not an abjectly awful and completely inscrutable Castlevania knockoff. Surely.
Holy Shit I'm Finally Acknowledging That It's Halloween Month
I don't much care for Ghost Manor. It evokes for me a great number of LJN games where the low quality wasn't simply reserved for its graphical and sound presentation, or even its inaccurate and awkward combat and platforming, but rather the complete lack of any purpose, sense or context for what's going on. I know I'm meant to be heading to the eponymous building via a "back way" through the forest, but beyond that there's no clear indication of what I'm meant to do or where to go. My singular weapon can actually run out (and quite easily), enemies either punch you off platforms or are revealed to be helpful spirits despite looking as nefarious as anything else and exits have to be specially sought out by checking every area of darkness to see if it's actually a doorway to a new area. Actually, I'd say the game Ghost Manor reminds me the most of is Young Merlin, because that game had all of the above problems with inscrutability and poor design as well as another unlikeable hero with an awful mullet.
Anyway, Ghost Manor is one of those games where you can instantly recognize the poor craftsmanship and that sort of puts a damper on trying to figure out what the hell it wants from you. You realize intuitively that whatever prize awaits those willing to puzzle out its bizarre mechanics is probably not going to be worth it. This may end up gripping horror fans like our own Patrick Klepek with the same grim fascination that they might reserve for the NES Friday the 13th game, yet somehow I doubt it'll inspire the same level of self-destructive dedication.
On a final note, ICOM would also go on to create a very badly received psuedo-sequel to Shadowgate named Beyond Shadowgate for the Turbo-CD. Might have to pencil that one in for next year, while I still hold some affection for that series which can then be summarily squandered away.
Octurbo Man Week meets Technicality Thursday with Chew Man Fu, the racially-sensitive puzzle game. Do you has what it takes to foil a grotesque stereotype by kicking him directly in his balls? Can you live with the murder of countless innocent hedgehogs, turtles and penguins? Can you abide an old man on a cloud who keeps hitting on you? Then Chew Man Fu might just be for Chew Man You.
Of All the TG-16 Games I've Encountered in My Travels, This Was the Most... Chew Man
Chew Man Fu is a novel little take on Sokoban/Adventures of Lolo though some of its mechanics can be a little fiddly at times, especially when moving balls in and out of tight gaps (yeah, yeah, one more salacious gag for the road). There's also that whole issue with the "we think Chinese people are inherently mockable, with their crazy little outfits, goofy names and thousands of years of culture and history" too, but we - a nation that created Custer's Revenge - can't really point fingers at the Japanese for tactless games like this. It's worth noting that the game is known by the far more neutral "Be Ball" in its native country and is presumably less packed with "Egg Roll Dynasty" bon mots. In conclusion, this game has caused me to lose all faith in humanity.
What else might I lose during Octurbo? My appreciation of the 16-bit era? My sanity? My will to live? Keep tuning in to find out!
More superhero shenanigans here on Octurbo. Today we visit the foreboding Gotham City to see what ol' growly's up to on the TurboGrafx-16. There are... quite a few strange things about this particular adaptation. The chief of which is that this game was never released outside of Japan, even though it's based on an American comic book and has no Japanese text in it. Oh, but the oddities don't end there.
Honestly, Batman might be the strangest game I've covered yet in Octurbo. I know Lady Sword set a high bar to surpass, but...
Have You Ever Danced With Clyde in the Pale Moonlight?
So I have no idea what the deal is with this game. I'm going to assume the following:
The lead designer assigned to this project had never heard of Batman before. He's seen pictures - the studio sent over several shots of the movie to provide a basis for the art teams - but the finer details about what Batman is and what he does elude him. However, the team down the hallway is busy at work on the NES version of the game and he's determined not to be shown up by his rivals. He quickly does some reconnaissance and discovers that Batman's mostly concerned with "cleaning up the mean streets of Gotham". "Ah," he thinks, "so he's some kind of overly elaborate costumed janitor?" Inspired, he quickly gets to work on a game that accurately depicts the adventures of the Caped Sanitation Worker.
That's probably entirely fallacious, but I can't imagine what lead to re-imagining Batman as a 16-bit Pac-Man clone. Maybe SunSoft wanted to create two very different games to give Batman fans a reason to buy both? There's a lot of cross-pollination between the two, with their similar graphical styles (the game looks excellent, for all its problems) and music (this game has a remixed version of Streets of Desolation, one of the best NES tunes ever composed). It's well crafted, though so weirdly incongruous to what a Batman game should be.
Why the hell is Batman picking up boxes and cleaning graffiti?
On this episode of Octurbo Man Week, the concussive sounds of inevitability ring in our collective ears as we finally cover Hudson's most famous little bald guy. No, not that one, the other one. The one that drops bombs everywhere.
Bomberman '93 is one of those games people tend to list as the "best" of the early 2D Bombermans, alongside Saturn Bomberman and Super Bombermans 2 and 3, which is a comparative process that has always baffled me. I purport (with a certain amount of spurious bluster, granted) to be someone with enough game design knowhow to pick apart even the minor shifts and changes between one game and the next in a series, but the Bomberman series really do all seem like the same game to me. Even with the superficial additions of kangeroos or bomb gloves or whatever other inconsequential superfluousness has been added to justify another new game. Bomberman 64, for all its problems, actually felt like the first time Bomberman tried evolving and leaving its relatively uncharred safety zone.
So, in conclusion, this is just more Bomberman. For a feature focusing on a console where half the games are from Hudson Soft, though, it's not a franchise I can really ignore forever.
Bomberman is what it is, so I can't fault it too much. I can however fault the sheer output of Hudson's favorite character, and I have to imagine that leaning on that little pyromaniac so heavily is eventually what put them under. The TG-16 library demonstrates that while not all of Hudson's ideas were great, they still had a lot of them. They were practically competing with Capcom and Konami back then in the sheer number of franchises and memorable mascot characters they were churning out. I almost feel kind of bad for highlighting what is essentially the creative cancer that led to their demise.
Man, am I getting a little too melodramatic over here. Bomberman is a series of games where a little white robot blows things up. This was one of them. Thanks for stopping by.
Welcome to Day 2 of Man Week here at Octurbo. Today we look at NCS's Shockman, another superhero parody action game that skews a little more towards Mega Man than Bravoman did. In fact, it's highly reminiscent of Mega Man X, only without the non-linear enemy select, which is quite a feat considering it pre-dates Capcom's Mega Man spin-off by a couple of years. Shockman is actually the second game in the Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman quadrilogy, but for some reason this was the only one that received a localization.
So Shockman's actually quite solid. Plays well, is reasonably challenging, has some bizarre bosses and lets you continue from the start of the current level as many times as you'd like. I don't know what I was expecting after the underwhelming Bravoman but this feels much closer to a 16-bit era game. I'd hesitate to go as far as to say this was the TG-16's Mega Man X, despite my many allusions to same, because that game had a hell of a lot more going on with all its wall-jumps, interchangeable weapons and non-linearity (the music's quite a bit better too). Instead, think of this as a lesser/earlier version of what would become one of Capcom's best SNES games, in the same way that Neutopia felt like a waypoint between the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past.
It does make me curious about the other Schbibinman games. You can read more about them in one of HardcoreGaming101's characteristically verbose breakdowns here. I might have to check out that third game whenever I finally start covering the TurboGrafx-CD.
All right, let's move on from the RPGs. The only thing I had left was Order of the Griffon, and it's about as impenetrable as any of the Gold Box D&D games. Well, maybe it isn't that obtuse, but it's another first-person dungeon crawler and I've seen quite enough of those for the time being.
Instead, we're moving onto a new theme. As someone who is frequently associated with hyper-masculinity (this is emphatically untrue, but stick with me here, I'm doing a bit), it's hard to find games that are able to reflect my lumberjackian levels of testosterone. The games I'll be covering all this week all have "man" in the title, is basically what this is, because I noticed there was a lot of them and I'm running out of rational ways to thematically link these games together.
The first is Namco's Bravoman. A bizarre but inconsequential curio back in the day, the telescopic superhero has gained something of a minor resurgence of late due to his prominence in Namco Bandai's ShiftyLook campaign to resurrect various old licenses of theirs via webcomics and cartoons. Why they couldn't just release another dozen Namco Museum games or give them all cameos in the next Tales as per usual I'm not sure. Bravoman's a "parodic" superhero game, ridiculing the po-faced tokusatsu superhero shows that were a thing in Japan and decidedly less of a thing in the US. For all this pre-amble leading up to the part where I post a lot of pictures, I don't really have a lot to say about it.
This Week on "Bravoman": The Real Housewives of VILLAINY
Bravoman's fun enough on a rudimentary level, but there's nothing particularly remarkable about it. The TurboGrafx-16 kind of hovered between the 8-bit and 16-bit era, so you'll see plenty of its games hearken back to a more innocent time where all you needed to do was to walk right and hit dudes occasionally. The stretchy powers both enhance the player's arsenal of moves while also allowing them to stand safely far away from any danger, so it kind of feels like a double-edged sword. Or a double-length arm. I don't know. I feel like a lot of the humor and references might have got lost in the translation too.
But hey, it looks like Namco's doing some weird and interesting stuff with the character now. On top of the ShiftyLook media, there's also a new tablet game called Bravoman: Binja Bash. On the one hand, I have to imagine Bravoman is a hopelessly obscure game even in regions that actually got to play it and so all the attention and funding being put towards its resurrection is kind of baffling; but on the other hand - that is, the one that I've been using to flip off Capcom for mishandling all of its legacy properties besides Street Fighter - I can totally get behind any weird attempts to tap into nostalgic appeal like this. Namco's never one to toss an idea or an old character to the wayside, even if it's just some blue guy with extendo-limbs that everyone's forgotten about.
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.