Octurbo: Cratermaze

Time to dig up another half-forgotten gem (well, semi-precious rock, maybe) from the TG-16 sedimentary with Cratermaze. It's funny, after so many of these Octurbo games I'm starting to see a lot of connections to those that have come before. For instance, the action maze gameplay of Cratermaze is very similar to Batman's, and it takes Keith Courage's route of taking a fairly well-established anime from its native Japan (that would be Doraemon in this case, the robotic time-travelling cat. The game was originally called Doraemon: Meikyuu Daisakusen, which I believe means "Doraemon: Operation Labyrinth") and giving it an inexplicable whitewashing for the US release. It's not even like they westernized him into Garfield or Heathcliff or whatever; if anything, Opi and his friends are easily as anime as Doraemon. Maybe it would've taken too much text to explain what Doraemon and his deal is to an American audience?

Honestly, I would probably have a lot more to say about Cratermaze if we hadn't already seen a number of games like it. Still, I'm running out of TG-16 stuff that aren't shooters or straight ports here.

Quatermaze and the Pit

Welcome to Cratermaze! I think this is the first title screen that makes germane use of the "push run button to start" imperative. That little guy really wants you to hit the run button. I mean, there's a giant dinosaur right behind him.
Amusingly, Doraemon does use a magic carpet to time travel, but no-one told the artist guy that they were leaving that part of the script intact. It's clearly been edited to look like some sort of VinnCo Maglift.
Well, Kublai Khan do, but Sartre is smartré.
Zenzombie apparently owns all of spacetime. Or the purple gap between times. I... all I'm saying is that I doubt his claim is genuine.
Joke's on him: All you have to do to escape the prisons of Another World is to rock the cage back and forth a few times. Doesn't take a Mike Aruba to figure that shit out.
Guy, they're long gone. Didn't you hear the magical talking doguu statue? "Prisons of another world." Also you might still need that time travel ship, I dunno.
So whenever a new stage loads, you get a whole mess of these little guys walking across the screen to fill it in. They're all Doraemon characters, as far as I can tell, with the exception of Opi.
Opi being the blue-armored spaceguy we just saw in the intro. The goal of Cratermaze is deceptively simple: just grab all the chests (you know how many are left by the counter at the top right), find a key and then find the exit. Wait, maybe it's not even "deceptively" simple.
In a move borrowed from Heiankyo Alien (or maybe Lode Runner, since we do look a lot like that guy), Opi defends himself by digging holes which enemies then fall into. You can also choose to then bury them alive for bonus points, if you want. It takes longer for them to respawn that way. I mean, if you can live with being a murderer, then more power to you...
A quick sweep of treasure chests and the big green key that unlocks the exit makes itself known. I'm fairly sure the key simply appears near you, rather than at a set point in the level. Maybe that changes in the later levels where they're happier to dick you around.
Flitting through time, stage 2 drops us in medieval Japan and gives us a new little level feature to play with. These springs let you get over enemies and walls and are therefore darn convenient for getting around.
I decided to kill this green blob thing, leaving a little cross grave (good thing this isn't Nintendo) and a little skull icon. Can't help but feel like karma's going to get me back for all this.
Anyway, nothing challenging in stage 2, so off I go to pastures new.
Stage 3 introduces these little warp pads. Most of them simply connect to one other nearby node and just lets you teleport between them, but others might take you all over the place. Often there'll be little enclosed areas which you can only reach by finding the right warp pad. More busywork, then.
Nothing much new occurs in the next few stages, but then in stage 6 I find myself in prehistoric times getting poked by neanderthals in these caves. The only warning sign is a pair of cartoon eyeballs floating in the darkness.
This game's also loaded with power-ups, which isn't surprising since Doraemon has a vast array of gadgets for every occasion. This particular one has frozen the level, allowing me to shatter the popsicle enemies or just walk past them safely. It'll end eventually, as all good things must.
Stage 7 just straight up gives me a gun. Like the game wasn't already easy enough.
Except, well, it's a bubble gun. I guess a disintegration pistol would be a little much for a game this cartoony, but then I have been burying suckers alive a lot. This game's already passed the macabre threshold as far as I'm concerned.
One of the few deadly obstacles is water, and these fish guys don't make it any easier. Good thing these are straight bridges. Shouldn't be too precarious, unless Vinny was the one who built them.
I capped this stage because it's super sci-fi looking, but there's nothing else particularly interesting about it. Pretty much Cratermaze in a nutshell right there.
In fact, after ten stages and no boss encounters (got a sweet yo-yo, though), I think it's time to call this one.
Before we go, though, let's take a look at what this game was originally. Man, Doraemon is a chipper guy considering a big volcano Luchadeer demon is right behind him.
As you can see, it really was a magic carpet time machine. One that comes with its own street corner lamppost, even. Is that a common thing with time travel? There's one in Chrono Trigger too, at the End of Time. Maybe it all ties back to the lamppost in Narnia, I dunno.
The game itself is largely identical though, but for Doraemon and the items he's tasked with collecting. Are those burgers? Steamed clams? Steamed hams?

Cratermaze isn't a fascinating game on its own, but at the same time it's indicative of what much of the TurboGrafx-16 library was about: full of games that would've probably been skipped over for a US localization had they been on the SNES or Genesis where there were more quality games to choose from, but because the PC Engine library was so limited they just had to make do with anything that didn't abjectly suck (or have too much text to translate in a cost-efficient manner, which is probably why we barely got any JRPGs on a system rife with the things). A Heiankyo Alien game starring Doraemon would've gone over fairly well with the kids in Japan I'd imagine, but trying to bring it over by changing all the characters just reeks of desperation. Did the US really need Cratermaze? Couldn't they have just localized the Batman game instead? At least you wouldn't have to switch him out for "Flying Rat Boy-san". (I know, I know, different publishers.)

Still, at least I got to make that sweet Quatermass pun. I'll take what I can get in this economy. The... joke economy.

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