Kolibri (Novotrade, 1995)

It seems a bit lopsided to be writing about hummingbirds and hornets in late November... but this is the kind of game for which I readily make exceptions. I never had a 32x for my Genesis, but a kid who lived down the street did. His name was Brian too (except, of course, spelled differently), and he was a lot like that Lazy Town character, Stingy. What I'm getting at is that Brian seemed to get a perverse thrill out of being overtly antagonistic, always had a shitty bite-back for everything, and absolutely lorded over his material possessions like Cerberus at the gate to Hades.

Occasionally, when he wasn't feeling malevolent (or just not malevolent enough to shun company), he'd invite me to play video games with him. It was in this realm that I saw my first wedgie and my first instance of a non-baby crapping his pants. I also saw Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Sonic... and then, when the Sega CD and the 32x got united with the Genesis into some unwieldy (unholy) sort of Voltron... that's when things marched out to left field and set up camp.

This kid and I ended up becoming decent friends by the time he and his family packed up and hopped a jetliner to Who Knows Wheresville, and we'd done it saving Dana Plato from vampires, nudging Kid Chameleon carefully through the Blood Swamp... but we never saw hide nor hair of this game. Maybe he saw it and didn't like it. I love it now like I would have then. A shooter fan from the first time I played Galaga at an old bowling alley, the genre has bolted itself to my heart. It's a formula you can't go too wrong with, providing excitement and a good test for the reflexes.

But you aren't usually a cute little hummingbird. You're usually a badass theoretical spaceship design or perhaps a robot who can fly.

Like a tiny little flying Yes album.

Like a tiny little flying Yes album.

Kolibri was conceived among the minds of a firm then known as Novotrade. I don't imagine there's ever been a ton of developers in Hungary; that's no slur against Hungarians, but you just... well, you don't hear about Hungary's booming games trade. Of all places, it's where Novotrade was based when they adventurously set the heroic hummingbird free on the 32x world. One year later, in 1996, Novotrade relocated, settling itself proudly in sunny California. A change of name was also decided to be in order, and so they became Appaloosa Interactive.

But back to he bird.

Left to Right: The Euro and US box art. I guess Nihon didn't want none of this one...

Here is the backstory of Kolibri, part of which you get to act out on your own: While not common knowledge among humans, it is well know among the animals that a sentient crystal is the source of much of Earth's life. Of course, eventually its antithesis arrived, in as hot a pursuit as crystals hurtling through space might hope to achieve: an evil, corrupt crystal-being, intent on undoing all that had been done and then some. The crystals wage a low-profile war with each other, and just before its demise the original crystal looks around itself desperately. It hopes to find a creature worthy of its powers... and transfers them into the body of a tiny little hummingbird who's spent all day being bullied. I'm not joking about this. The game starts you off very close to a bunch of other male hummingbirds, who will gang-push you away from any flower they can see.

Anyway, not only does the Earth crystal grant the cute little bird its power, it also imparts upon him very strongly the dire situation at hand. So now we have our champion, the being who will save Earth from the evil crystal... a tiny, hyperactive bird whose taxonomic family averages just over 4 inches in length, the heaviest known species averaging a tremendous 20 grams.

To be fair though, you do get homing lasers and shit...

Tiny little orbs simply fill the air in some locales, each containing its own gun swap. You can also get “lives,” that is to say insurance against being whomped and having to start over. As someone who's always initially sucked at any game until I've had a month or two to really absorb it, I did appreciate one gentle slope to Kolibri: while you can run out of lives and get a Game Over, you effectively have infinite continues.

If I were to make one gripe about Kolibri, it'd be this: it shares something in common with another Novotrade game featuring an animal as the hero... Ecco the Dolphin. What I'm dancing around is that Kolibri features a few more puzzles than one might find reasonable. These get more difficult on a quick scale, but I only had to look online for the way through a couple of them. They take the form of entire area, again not unlike Ecco. However, there are far worse things than monotonous puzzles out there, as the intrepid little trochilid battles nearly every conceivable kind of creature from the wilderness. I seems that evil crystal has been doing a lot of recruiting in preparation for its nihilist suicide/genocide/ice cream party.

Dickhead.

Dickhead.

Over on the upside, we have an obvious place to launch; the game plays much like a shooter, and the story unfolds in a truly rich, vibrant game world. While they certainly didn't break it in half, Novotrade seems to have taken great advantage of the superior color range the 32x offers over its 16-bit nucleus. It also has delightful music, though there's not much variety to it.

After playing the game about 90% to completion, I would drop Kolibri's difficulty nearly in the exact middle for the type of game it is. You skirmish with hornets, frogs, violet scorpions, snakes, and lots of creatures capable of pummeling you flat. Why did I really stop, though? Well, the later game is just a it too involved for my taste as of late. If I'm gonna get that invested, give me stats and XP.

After weighing the good and the bad, Kolibri gets 7/10 from me. It's a vibrant game that draws you in, and it holds an immense initial charm. However, the game's long-term fun factor suffers as the puzzle challenges and grist-mill combat progress bar the door shut on your attention span. Despite all this, and despite myself, I do think a little hummingbird was a daring and ballsy choice for a protagonist. I think the only major thing wrong with Kolibri is that it handed us a weaponized hummingbird and made us solve Ecco the Dolphin puzzles with it.

Vice: Project Doom (American Sammy, 1991)

This may or may not surprise you, but I have a pretty short attention span. With a scant few exceptions, I tend to get bored quickly. This applies to video games as well. I don't tend to play most of them for long, and despite their entertainment value, they don't really suck em in most of the time. As I said, there are exceptions... and Vice: Project Doom is definitely one of them.

Left: The US box art. "Chris Isaak knows two things: the spice must flow, and he's pissed that you tore his shirt." Right: Some promotional art, wherein Hart gives us his version of the Rick Deckard look.

The first thing that grabbed me was the intro, which I have lovingly curated on YouTube for you:

Once I pressed Start and got to playing, I found that the intro was simply the first of many immersive cut scenes in the game. Not unlike Ninja Gaiden, V:PD offers a lavish story that is conveyed through a set of nearly movie-like cinematic sequences between the action bits. It's still only 8-bit, to be objective... but what's accomplished with that level of graphic detail is incredibly impressive.

While the story and cut scenes really steal the show for this one, don't let me tell you that the game itself isn't a spectacle in its own right. You play as a character named Hart, who we can draw from context clues to assume is some kind of cop or agent in a dark future reality. You start out by bringing down a maniac on the freeway, and end up investigating the disappearance of a fellow agent/cop. As you go on, you discover the incident has ties to a corporation called BEDA and a substance called “Gel...” and to avoid spoiling anything, the story gets more intriguing as you go. Just one semi-spoiler: when I finished the game (by the skin of my ass), the intro made a lot more sense and seemed less non-sequitur.

Plane trips and pervy shadow dudes... all in a day's work for Hart.

You lead Hart through the city, travel to an area of Central America, and end up doubling back after you learn a few things out there. The game borrows a page from the Konami turd-fest The Adventures of Bayou Billy and improves on it tenfold: Hart not only must make his way through platform-style levels, but must also handle a couple of first-person-perspective shootouts and top-down driving scenarios. In fact, the very first thing you do in the game is a hectic top-down chase that ends in a showdown. Your futuristic car even shoots little Galaga bullets!

Meanwhile, the reporter in the traffic copter above struggles for the right words. "Folks... maybe, uh... shit, maybe find a detour if you need to use the freeway. Traffic's gonna be backed up for a good while."

Meanwhile, the reporter in the traffic copter above struggles for the right words. "Folks... maybe, uh... shit, maybe find a detour if you need to use the freeway. Traffic's gonna be backed up for a good while."

The platform levels start out fairly easy and quickly ramp up the difficulty; the best way to describe them would be “a collection of situations wherein you are battered constantly to death unless you couple lighting reaction time with paranoid vigilance.” It's sometimes really fucking annoying, but overall, I found V:PD to be genuinely enjoyable despite its difficulty. I think it was because I felt involved and connected to what was going on plot-wise by the awesome cinematics. It's also cool that you get a selection of tools with which to deal out death; not only does this cop have a sword for some reason, but he also has a gun and grenades. The grenades are almost as effective as you'd assume, causing wanton destruction but being slow to throw in succession. The gun has a terribly truncated range, but is often the best way to clear a path in front of yourself. The sword? Well, the sword actually rules pretty hard. It's got the most rapid rate of fire for any of your weapons, and it's no less lethal. I honestly had an easier time dispatching some of the bosses with it than grenades or the gun.

Three gun toting assholes and a bird try to make my train ride as unpleasant as possible. The enemies in this game have football-style playbooks on how to make you fall into gaps or get hit six times before you can move. This is not some kid's birthday party. This is not balloon animals and colored handkerchiefs. This is the big leagues, Chuckles. Try not to die.

Three gun toting assholes and a bird try to make my train ride as unpleasant as possible. The enemies in this game have football-style playbooks on how to make you fall into gaps or get hit six times before you can move. This is not some kid's birthday party. This is not balloon animals and colored handkerchiefs. This is the big leagues, Chuckles. Try not to die.

And let me tell you: the bosses and enemies in this game are one big round bright red son-of-a-bitch. Birds show up to play their time-honored console game role as assholes who help knock you into pits, and red ninjas co-star in that role; there are times when the game seems like one big exercise in mocking you for trying to gain an inch of ground without plummeting to your demise. Mutants galore fill out the ground force, as expected for a game like V:PD. There are also more-or-less human seeming soldiers (or maybe they're just guys with guns, who knows) and even some mixed-in bullshit like dudes with jack-o-lantern heads and pissed-off house cats. One whole stage seems to be a Chinatown-like affair, complete with extremely dangerous caricatures of that culture. The bosses include a massive robot that uncreatively spams the screen with missiles, a goo man, a tree man, and your classic “end boss with multiple forms” setup. It is worth mentioning that this game absolutely LOVES making you fall into pits by placing small fucking armies of birds/assholes with projectile weapons/static hazards on either side. You also leap backward when hit and are unable to react for a second, which it takes full advantage of. V:PD is a cruel mistress, but her kiss is all too sweet.

The shooting levels are governed by the game pad, but the controls are nice and tight so you're not flailing all around the screen while people shoot you to death like in Bayou Billy. The car scenes are also pretty well-handled, even allowing you to shift gears while driving. (did I mention that your future car shoots adorable little spaceship bullets?)

Left to right: the guy who looked so cool I almost didn't shoot him (but then I did); mutant rats in the Mountain Dew sewer; the red ninja makes sure I don't get too far across the huge chasms inside the mansion.

The music is... well, I can't say it's stellar, but it's good where it's good, if you know what I mean. Some level music is awfully damned repetitive, but a lot of the music for cut scenes is suitably intense and dramatic. The graphics are on par with something Sunsoft or Konami would put out in the same class, and in fact they remind me a little of Sunsoft's Batman NES game: muted but almost candy-like colors with a lot of drab tech-aesthetic shapes.

I'm gonna go with my reflex and throw 9/10 at Vice: Project Doom. It's another classic from late in the NES's library history, a real artistic effort with a great story and plenty to keep players interested. It's occasionally a bit insane in terms of raw difficulty, but I didn't find it as stupidly hard as Ghosts & Goblins or Battletoads. I was eventually able to beat the sumbitch and get the sense of accomplishment we all love from that triumph.

See you for more at the end of November, folks, and don't forget to keep an eye on NRW Gaming's YouTube channel! It's tons of videos of me failing at your favorite retro games, set to all your favorite NRW-featured tunes!

See you for more at the end of November, folks, and don't forget to keep an eye on NRW Gaming's YouTube channel! It's tons of videos of me failing at your favorite retro games, set to all your favorite NRW-featured tunes!

Hall of Shame: NES 1992-94

The Nintendo Entertainment System hit US shores in 1985. It wasn't just a success, it became its own little matte-gray pop culture icon. From 1985-87 was arguably its glory era; it had no meaningful competition outside its native Japan, well over half the market's share in hand (65% by '87), and Nintendo was such a household name that moms would often just call any game console a Nintendo when referring to it.

1989 saw NEC try to sell its PC-Engine in the States under the name TurboGrafx-16, and that same year Sega followed suit with their Mega Drive. As the 90s went on, these new threats were headed off by Nintendo's own next-gen system, the SNES. The NES just kind of puttered in the background.

The Nintendo Entertainment System died a slow and quiet death... but during that death, they kept developing games for it. It is needless to say that quality control (or even interest in it) flagged a little. By 1992, with the big consoles taking shit to the street, the NES got a moderate to slow trickle of pretty terrible games with a few acceptable ones thrown in. This would continue until August of 1994, when Wario's Woods – the last game released for the NES – hit shelves. In 1995 they finally did the NES a favor and gave it the Old Yeller treatment.

You'll notice that all of these are titles that were released for multiple platforms. That means a version of each game exists that's actually closer to good. Or at least, less shitty.

RoboCop 3

(Ocean/Probe, 1992)

I'm about to say a few things it almost physically hurts me to say.

They should not have done any RoboCop sequels. The second one was watchable but the third has a 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as we speak. They definitely should not have made 3. You know what else they shouldn't have done? Taken a film that made $10m on a $22m budget and tried to make an NES game out of it in 1992.

The title screen has RoboCop cradling a small child on one shoulder; both he and the child are brandishing guns. Where the hell are we going with this? When I saw it, I was speechless. Where does this leave us?

Well, it leaves RoboCop on a Detroit street getting the shit shot out of him by guys in windows because it takes you two very deliberate actions to aim upward. Different parts of his body take damage and can stop working, so it's entirely possible to just lose control of RoboCop in the least rock-n-roll way possible. The controls are about as fluid as smashing a compact car into a sturdy brick wall. Don't try to duck while shooting or aim your gun quickly or really anything a real cop could do, let alone RoboCop. I'd even say the graphics are okay but they're not.

Last Action Hero

(Teeny Weeny/Sony Imagesoft, 1993)

He isn't last action anything. He isn't even action anything. Not in this game, anyway. Maybe in the movie where shit just works. I'm not gonna sit here and say I remember or even saw the movie, but if this is the game we got out of it, maybe that's better off.

My first big complaint about any game where I don't have some kind of gun: Don't make my punch, etc. so short-range that I have to choose between pacifism and getting myself hurt. You can't hit jack shit without getting thumped yourself. You have short, thick little arms no one thought about during development. You also do this odd shuffle when you punch, like you're trying awkwardly to hug someone. Eventually I figured out how INCREDIBLY PRECISE you must be with those fat little hams, but by then I was tired of playing the game.

AND ENOUGH WITH THIS DIGITIZED PHOTOGRAPHY SHIT. The loss of color depth, especially in a dark shot, will make someone in ¾ profile look like a goofy bird person.

Incredible Crash Dummies

(LJN, 1994)

Here's a huge low-res image because people hated this one so much I couldn't even find a decent scan.

Here's a huge low-res image because people hated this one so much I couldn't even find a decent scan.

I don't even know where to start with this one. One thing I simply ADORE is how you keep moving for a second after you release the D-pad. What, the Mario 3 ice world effect, but forever? Awesome! Also, the very first level is full of situations where your little wheel-leg is a liability: inclines, little segmented areas, and things that will hit you if you don't stop on a dime. Which you can't.

I understand the SNES version of this one isn't much better, which doesn't surprise me. The NES one is difficult past the point of fun, that point where you just have to know you're abusing yourself by playing it. Then your eyes meet this symbol of quality the very second you turn it on... and it all makes sense.

Well fuck you, too.

Well fuck you, too.

It's a shame the NES died this way.  

Shadowgate (ICOM Simulations, 1987)

One last doom & gloom-themed game for October, RetroFans, and we can get back to the usual variety fare. This one's a good example of how we can gauge a title's success by how readily it was ported to other platforms, and it's also a standout in its style of play. Shadowgate isn't a run-and-jump platformer or a fast-paced shooter... in fact, players are well-advised to take their time while wandering through this game, lest they die in one of the countless ways possible within the warlock's fortress.

Originally released for the Macintosh in 1987, Shadowgate is a point-and-click “adventure” game. I put “adventure” in quotes because what “adventure” really seems to mean here is “puzzles that kill you out of hand for getting them wrong so you have to start over.” The premise of the game is that some wizard named Lakmir has sent you to stop a warlock from calling up the Behemoth, which is some kind of bad-news demon. No one really asked you; you're “the seed of the prophecy.” In other words, you've been thrust into this position (and this creepy castle) regardless of your feelings on the matter, and it's your problem to solve.

The NES (left) and Amiga (right) box art.

You're expected to do this by solving a series of puzzles, all interlocking and complex. Normally, that'd be fun, right? Lots of people like puzzle games. They're stimulating and grant a sense of triumph when you succeed. Here's the thing: If you do pretty much anything but exactly what you're supposed to do while engaging any of these puzzles, you're probably gonna die. Not only that, but the game will describe, in detail, your death. Sometimes, it'll even mock you. No matter what, you always get to see this guy:

You son of a bitch.

You son of a bitch.

Some of the deaths are comical, some of them are strange, and plenty of them are just gruesome. Nonetheless, it IS possible to finish/win the game... you just better be ready to find a guide or go through a lot of brutal trial-and-error to do it.

Shadowgate was ported to pretty much all other computer platforms of the time, and the NES saw a port of it the same year (co-developed by Kemco). It has also been ported to the Game Boy, mobile phones, modern operating systems... even the Philips CD-i got a port of Shadowgate. For all its heinous and punishing difficulty, the game was successful and grabbed itself a place in pop culture that endures to this day.

Death and futility are your closest allies in Shadowgate.

The success and positive reception of the NES port led ICOM and Kemco to port over previous games produced using the same interface: Deja Vu and Uninvited. Both have a similarly dark tone and uncompromising punishment for mistakes. In the late 90s, sequels were released on the TG-16 and N64. In 2012, a company called Zojoi funded a remake of Shadowgate via Kickstarter, which was successfully released in 2014.

Now you can kill yourself over and over with better graphics!

Now you can kill yourself over and over with better graphics!

Personally, Shadowgate isn't my cup of tea. That said, it's immensely popular and I can view it objectively with a fair amount of appreciation. I give it 8/10. It's iconic of its genre, legendary for all the right reasons, and it's entertaining even if you (I) suck at it.

God DAMMIT!

God DAMMIT!

Well folks, it's been quite an October... but we'll be back to our regular tricks and treats starting next month. We look forward to what's left of 2016... and what's beyond? Well, that's probably even cooler. You wait and see.

Dark Seed (Cyberdreams, 1992)

I've got another one for you Retro Fright Fans this October, a cult favorite for the PC. Dark Seed is one from back in the DOS days, although it saw release for the Amiga as well. Released in 1992, the game is a point-and-click graphical adventure, and features the artwork of none other than HR Giger. I've included my usual wealth of images and links, but don't expect a rainbow of colors, folks... Dark Seed is more of a shadowy rollercoaster ride through the macabre and the unearthly. 

Mike has a killer dream and wakes up with a headache to match.

The story follows Mike Dawson, a well-to-do man who purchases a mansion whose previous owners are now deceased. His first night there, Dawson has a dream that something shoots an embryo into his brain. Mike wakes up with a monster headache, but explores his new home after doing his best to set himself straight. He finds several clues that reveal not only the fate of the previous owner, but something more sinister (and unbelievable)... a second world accessible from within his house. Mike uses the mirror in his living room to travel to this place, called the Dark World. It's in this bizarre realm that Mike finds out his dream was real... and has dire implications for humanity. An entity known as the Keeper of the Scrolls tells him he must destroy the power source of the Ancients who rule the Dark World.

You'll notice a lot of things that look vaguely like dicks. That's... that's Giger for you, rest his soul. The man was extremely talented, but you always knew what was in the back of his mind. Weird robot sex stuff. There but for the grace of Mario go I.

You'll notice a lot of things that look vaguely like dicks. That's... that's Giger for you, rest his soul. The man was extremely talented, but you always knew what was in the back of his mind. Weird robot sex stuff. There but for the grace of Mario go I.

All of this strangeness is brought to creepily vibrant life by the art of Giger, who insisted that the developers use a higher resolution than was normally employed for DOS games at that time. The proposed plan by Cyberdreams was to use Mode 13h, a low-detail but color-rich display setting for VGA graphics during this time period. By using a higher resolution (640x350 instead of 320x200), the developers of Dark Seed lost color depth, in fact reducing it by a factor of 16 to just... 16 colors. What ensued was a low-key conflict between the dev team and the art team as they were given access to nearly all of Giger's work to assemble the macabre visuals seen in the game. Six extra months, in fact, were spent hand-coloring the scanned art after the dev team said the images weren't adequate for use.

To be fair, they really did a lot with so little. Sure, the end result was drab, but that ended up working really well for Dark Seed's overall tone.

To be fair, they really did a lot with so little. Sure, the end result was drab, but that ended up working really well for Dark Seed's overall tone.

The controls in the game aren't unlike Willy Beamish or other click-adventure games of the era. You simply click around to move Mike from place to place, and see how the cursor will let you otherwise interact with things. As you hatch your clever plan to save humanity from within the Dark World, you'll want to leave no stone unturned, but be careful... there are things (and beings) down there that you may not wish to see...

Oh, this oughta be good. Making friends down here seems like a great idea.

Oh, this oughta be good. Making friends down here seems like a great idea.

The game was received pretty positively, getting a little bit of flak for a clumsy control interface but making up for it with an incredible story and a rich (terrifying) game environment. The graphics and sound were steadily praised, and Dark Seed's horror factor was touted as first-class skin-crawl. In fact, in 2006, GameTrailers ranked Dark Seed the seventh most frightening game of all time. There isn't much music, but I did find a rip of the Amiga version... it's a good set of atmospheric tracks, but sometimes a bit too busy or over-the-top to be truly scary. It's still worth a listen, and I've included it below.

Dark Seed was ported to the Mac, and Japan received ports for the PlayStation and Saturn. There's even a Famicom bootleg from China, with surprisingly decent graphic detail (but only half-assed translation into English, at least that I found). Dark Seed 2 was released in 1995, and was also very well-received.

I would like to stress "surprisingly decent," as in "pretty good for a bootleg 8-bit muzzle load of a VGA DOS game." I'd label the pictures, but I'm sure you're observant enough to tell which one's from the Famicom version.

See you around Halloween for one more, RetroFiends... keep it spooky and Stay Retro.

NRW Gaming... Welcome to Your Doom!™

NRW Gaming... Welcome to Your Doom!™

IronSword: Wizards & Warriors II (Acclaim/Rare/Zippo, 1989)

Sometime back in 2015 I told you about Wizards & Warriors, a well-remembered but ultimately so-so sword and sorcery title for the NES. The game did well at the retail counter, and was one of the titles that helped Rare establish itself as a name in NES game development. The whole concept of the sequel comes from wanting to cash back in on the original's success; W&W's sequel was definitely a better game, and allowed its developers to make out like bandits. Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II is what the first one should have been: challenging without being ridiculous, and full of detail.

This time, Rare shook hands with Acclaim (for distribution/publishing) and a fellow UK company called Zippo Games to get the job done. The result is a game that plays very much like its prequel, but in many ways outstrips it. Rare was pretty much hands-off, simply licensing the concept and codebase to Zippo and allowing them to work mostly unsupervised to develop the finished product. Zippo had worked developing games for the C64 and Amiga, and felt the NES was a bit of a step backward; They eventually decided that while it wasn't as advanced graphically, Nintendo's console was set up to produce better-playing games than a home computer of the time. The Pickford brothers (the men behind Zippo) paid particular attention to making the game as graphically impressive as possible, transferring black and white sketches into character maps for the game. Many of the larger entities (bosses, etc.) are done by using the whole screen in conjunction with as few moving sprites as possible. This was meant to give the impression that the whole thing was alive.

Here we see the original Pickford sketch of the wind boss, and its translation into the game itself. The bottom image shows all the parts that were sprite-based, while all others were treated as background.

Here we see the original Pickford sketch of the wind boss, and its translation into the game itself. The bottom image shows all the parts that were sprite-based, while all others were treated as background.

The story for this second installment of Wizards & Warriors pits the same protagonist against the same antagonist; Again we're shown a nearly nude Kuros on the cover, this time depicted by the now-famous 90s model Fabio. True to form, Kuros puts on some clothes to battle Malkil a second time.

Dinner tray for a belt, looks like he's gonna hit you with the flat part of the sword... Fabio at his absolute finest.

Dinner tray for a belt, looks like he's gonna hit you with the flat part of the sword... Fabio at his absolute finest.

It's not made perfectly clear what Malkil's up to this time, but he's pitted the elements themselves (air, fire, earth, water) against the bold warrior. Kuros must assemble the pieces of the legendary IronSword in order to battle Malkil on IceFire Mountain. To make it there, he must move through the domains of each element, presenting a golden object to each domain's animal king to progress further. As the game goes on, Kuros will have to learn spells, get better equipment, and also do his best not to get his ass turned inside out by pretty much every living thing that isn't an innkeeper. Thankfully, you're not quite as much of a wet end as in the first game, and the hitmapping seems to be a bit better. You still flip and flop and fall like a ragdoll, but you're a bit more in control of what you do when that's not happening.

You'll do a lot of falling, sometimes great distances, as you get used to the game... but this time you get to see Kuros's dumb face while he suffers, at least until you find the helmet.

You'll do a lot of falling, sometimes great distances, as you get used to the game... but this time you get to see Kuros's dumb face while he suffers, at least until you find the helmet.

Speaking of innkeepers, that's one of the novel concepts added to the game. Each level has an inn where you can buy food, keys, and sometimes a spell or other item. Food plays its time-honored digital role of replenishing your health, while keys do... well, what keys do. Usually the other item for sale is one you need to move forward, so there is a small element of “grinding” present in IronSword. Lastly, you can also gamble in the inn, winning or losing money in a game where you predict which cup a tiny skull will fall into. One of my favorite little details of this game is that when you walk into an inn with no money, the innkeeper grabs you by the seat of your pants and throws you out. It's a nice touch of realism.

"THAT'S RIGHT, A LITTLE TASTE OF VEGAS, RIGHT HERE ON ICEFIRE MOUNTAIN. STEP RIGHT UP AND LOSE YOUR MONEY."

"THAT'S RIGHT, A LITTLE TASTE OF VEGAS, RIGHT HERE ON ICEFIRE MOUNTAIN. STEP RIGHT UP AND LOSE YOUR MONEY."

Magic plays a strong role in the game. Some spells are purely utilitarian, like a waterspout that lifts you to high places. Others have use in combat, like the Asp's Tongue spell that slows down enemies. Four of the spells are necessary to harm the four elemental bosses, and these must be found (usually in the second half of a given domain). You'll also find things like helmets, better weapons (including, eventually, the titular IronSword), and treasure.

Like, have a nice day, man.

Like, have a nice day, man.

As much as the animal lords would like to help you, they do nothing to keep their subjects from constantly assaulting you at every angle. The very first level is full of eagles/hawks/whatever that seem to hate you for no reason, and the list of enemies just gets worse from there. The bosses are huge affairs that are mostly background imagery, but the effect is appreciable. Each boss seems incredibly large and intimidating.

As stated before, Zippo sought to push the limits with graphics on the NES; it's arguable that they succeeded. Their experience with Amiga and C64 titles shows in this product. The music, composed by notable video game composer David Wise, is incredibly cool. It has a great thickness to it, and there's a few tracks that really make you want to bop your head. I particularly like "Stage Theme 2." You could rap over that. Well, I couldn't, but you might be able to.

I grant Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II 9 out of 10. It's a huge improvement on its prequel, a visually and musically impressive title, and one of the games worth adding to any NES enthusiast's collection.

See you mid-month, and I've got a special article coming in late October about one of my favorite classic TV shows.

See you mid-month, and I've got a special article coming in late October about one of my favorite classic TV shows.

Nosferatu (Seta, 1994)

So, the first SNES I owned was in 1999. I was a Sega guy during the competing time period, but eventually I got a used SNES from a friend. He threw in a handful of games... Super Mario World, F-Zero, Zelda... Nosferatu? You can guess which one I tried first when I got home. I still consider it a top note for the SNES, and a great topic to usher us into October.

Published by Seta in October of 1994, Nosferatu wouldn't be released in America for another year. It got mixed but mostly positive reviews, many citing its dark, cinematic atmosphere and challenging gameplay as strong points. Nosferatu caught some heat for its controls and its combat system; they took some getting used to but could be used to good effect once mastered.

Japanese cover reveals an unedited version of the artwork. Slightly less "K-A," but whatever.

Japanese cover reveals an unedited version of the artwork. Slightly less "K-A," but whatever.

Now, what comes to mind (and rightly so) when the term “Nosferatu” gets thrown about is the 1922 FW Murnau silent film, perhaps specifically Max Schreck's awe-inspiring portrayal of Count Orlok from said film. Sadly, we'll find this to have nothing at all to do with the film, but it is almost as classy. I say almost because our protagonist in the game does a good deal of fighting the living dead with his hands and feet. It's not classy, but it's insanely badass.

If a trope ain't broke, don't fix it... Nosferatu took your gal. That's the entire plot. Apparently he's really bad about this kind of thing. While you're up there, see if you could talk to him about all the bloodsucking.

After you fall into some kind of trap door right inside the castle gate, you've got a timer ticking down and little gargoyle men after you. Naturally, you fell in a dungeon, so there's pits and ledges, and of course, TRAPS. So you can see what kind of game this will be right from the start. Everything's a puzzle, but you've got your blood and guts, too; our hero has a surprisingly fast set of hands and is in very good shape. So the job of the day (night?) is to reach where Nosferatu's got your lady friend, getting there in one piece. Needless to say, his whole realm is a hellish place. There's the undead trying to add you to their ranks, and there's away to deal with them, but it's easy to get carried away and hurt. The game requires careful strategy and a bit of thought as you pick your way through.

The graphics are pretty amazing, especially the bits of cinematic we get. Lots of high quality background and animation work, especially on little baddies and the like. I feel like in places, the music falls short. Most of the tracks are good horror music; they build tension and convey stress. Some of the tracks just sound... dated, I guess, but it's good where it counts.

I give Nosferatu for the SNES a 7 out of 10. It was an underrated but forward-thinking title that came out at a weird time for the console, but like the (unrelated) 1922 silent film, it still has its fans to this day. There was a great adventure game in there, and they did a lot right. Don't let this one slip through the cracks.

 

 

Alien Crush/Devil's Crush (1988/1990, Naxat Soft)

Naxat Soft (which eventually became known as Kaga Create before becoming defunct in 2015) was a big swingin' tent pole in the late 1980s in Japan. During this time, they would earn a reputation for producing some insane titles, many of which were made for Hudson's PC Engine. Many of you will remember my rant earlier this year about how cool that console was... the one we came to know as the Turbo Grafx 16. You may even remember my prominent mention of a pair of completely bonkers pinball sims...

The first to hit shelves was Alien Crush, Developed by Naxat and Compile in 1988 and released for the PC Engine. The game is fairly simple and straightforward; you're playing pinball. The interesting twist is that you're playing pinball inside some kind of bio-mechanical alien amalgam, simultaneously trying to defeat it. The main pinball area is divided into two screens, and when your ball goes from one to another the screen will go blank for a moment. This can be disorienting, but I quickly got used to it. There are also a handful of bonus screens, which you access by getting your ball to land certain places. You can “beat” Alien Crush, but it takes a while... longer than I have patience for. It's still a lot of fun to just play it like a regular pinball game though, and see how high you can get your score.

A couple of the bonus stages seem more "Spooky cartoon haunted house" themed, but what the hell. We're playin' pinball here, not putting on a Hollywood production.

A couple of the bonus stages seem more "Spooky cartoon haunted house" themed, but what the hell. We're playin' pinball here, not putting on a Hollywood production.

Two years later, Naxat followed up with Devil Crash (Devil's Crush outside of Japan) for the same system. This pinball epic was themed much differently, and is often considered the more memorable because of it; Devil's Crush features prominent and unabashed occult/horror imagery. To phrase that differently, Devil's Crush is metal as hell. A few improvements were made to the concept visually and play-wise, most notably that the main play area's three divisions scroll as one image when your ball moves through them. There are also many more things to do; plenty of little monster men to smash, just as many (if not more) bonus screens to find, and a woman's face that gradually wakes up and turns into a horrid reptilian monster as you drop into certain point-spots.

Oh shit, here we go!!!

Oh shit, here we go!!!

The picture of elegance, charm, and sophistication.

The picture of elegance, charm, and sophistication.

As evidenced by any screenshot or gameplay video you watch, these games have amazing graphics for the time. The music for both is astounding, and has in fact been reproduced in non-VG format. I particularly like the track “Lunar Eclipse” from Alien Crush, as well as its main title theme, and I consider Devil's Crush's main table theme to be the best music out of the two games.

Devil Crash was released for the Mega Drive and Genesis; its title in America was changed to Dragon's Fury, since our Protestant sensibilities have for so long found horrible fire-breathing dragons far more tolerable than old Scratch. A sequel to that game, Dragon's Revenge, was produced for the MD/Genesis in 1993, but went largely ignored for no good reason. It is a passable game, but a far cry from these originals.

"Yeah, the American MD/Genesis port? I don't care. Farm it out to those guys who used to be Atari before Atari shit the bed with the lights on.... WHAT? They're calling it Dragon's Fury? Hahahaha, those Americans are vanilla as hell. The check cleared though, right?"

"Yeah, the American MD/Genesis port? I don't care. Farm it out to those guys who used to be Atari before Atari shit the bed with the lights on.... WHAT? They're calling it Dragon's Fury? Hahahaha, those Americans are vanilla as hell. The check cleared though, right?"

I gladly grant both of these titles a 9 out of 10. Visual/virtual pinball is something you see weave its way in and out of popularity through the time period, with games like Crue Ball and even Sonic Spinball; I feel that the Crush Pinball pair of titles loom over all as the sometimes unsung rulers of the roost.

Keep your eyes peeled for shrieks & creaks & some other spooky shit (all retro VG related, of course) as we wrap up September and get into September's cooler cousin, October!!!

BONUS: If you read this far, here's a treat! Here's me rocking at Alien Crush and here's me sucking ass at Devil Crash.

Cadash (Taito, 1989)

It could be said that if you wanted to make a good profit with a video game, be it now or in the 80s or 90s, the “dragons and wizards” angle has never been a bad way to go. This is a culture that embraced Conan the Barbarian in film 46 years after his original author-creator's death (the film came out in '82, while Robert E. Howard died in 1936), and it's the same culture that's currently obsessed with Game of Thrones. My personal favorite medium for the genre, Dungeons & Dragons (which I never fail to mention whenever there's even a remote reason to), is in its 5th edition of rules and still has a strong base of adherents. Barbarians, trolls, demon princes, and magic swords are perennially totally cool.

Ad for the TG-16 version, complete with absolutely lush fantasy art.

Ad for the TG-16 version, complete with absolutely lush fantasy art.

So is Cadash, a game I'd only heard of in passing, but that was mentioned to me in a recent conversation by a friend who has a distant interest in retro gaming. “If you're into D&D but you like Golden Axe, too,” he said, “check out Cadash. It's basically a mix of both.”

He wasn't entirely on point, but his heart was in the right place. Cadash hit the arcades in 1989, so it was kicking around them the same time I started to; what surprises me more is how I missed the Genesis port in 1992. It was also released for the Turbo Grafx 16, which is how I recently subjected myself to it (since nearly every MAME32 emulator runs like utter shit on my computer). It's a pretty fantastic game for its time, combining elements of the RPG and the platformer with some gnarly graphics. It's got some pretty good sound to boot, but the arcade version seems to come out ahead in that regard.

From the intro of the Genesis port. The King demands that you kneel, but it's no big deal if you have your sword out.

From the intro of the Genesis port. The King demands that you kneel, but it's no big deal if you have your sword out.

Cadash's story isn't very complex, and you really wouldn't want it to be: A demonic warlock born of a human woman has rallied the monsters of the underground kingdom, who have never forgotten their banishment by the humans. The overworld is nearly in ruins, and this warlock (called, with various spelling variables in the three versions, the Balrog) has kidnapped the daughter of the King of Dirzir to use in a ritual that would truly solidify his evil power and doom the human world. Of course, in the custom of video game RPG kings, the ruler of Dirzir has promised you his entire realm if you can save his daughter and finish the Balrog once and for all.

The 4-player cabinet. Ideal for corners, I guess.

The 4-player cabinet. Ideal for corners, I guess.

The arcade version, if configured the right way, could handle up to four players, but the console versions were 1-2 player games. The players choose one of four classic fantasy RPG roles: the fighter, mage, priestess, or ninja. Each one has its ups and downs, but the game's pretty approachable with any of the four. Single players might have a better time with the priestess though, as she's got a good reach for her weaponry and a lot of defense-oriented powers. The fighter and the mage have a lot of offensive power, although the fighter's much better early on and harder to kill. The ninja's, well, a ninja. He moves very quickly and has some neat tricks up his sleeve. Sadly, the Genesis port has only the fighter and the mage, so if that's how you experience Cadash, I hope one of those suits you.

Fighter has perfectly conditioned and brushed hair, but not one stitch of armor to speak of. At least everyone else brought their shit, Fabio.

Fighter has perfectly conditioned and brushed hair, but not one stitch of armor to speak of. At least everyone else brought their shit, Fabio.

Regardless of who you pick, you use gold from slain monsters to gradually beef up your equipment, and your capabilities increase as you gain levels as well. All of this progress is fueled by killing monsters, but you can't just wander idly and do that all day (at least not in the arcade version)... there's a time clock you have to keep feeding. This can be done with rare item drops or by dumping heinous gold at shops where you buy other stuff. This element adds another layer of strategy to the game, where a player or group must measure the clock against their need to level-grind. There's not really a dull moment in Cadash.

Screenshots from various versions, offering a sample of what's constantly trying to murder you beneath the ground. Click to enlarge.

The five areas of the game represent the already-conquered territory of the Balrog's forces; you must fight your way through all of this, and not always in the most linear way either. For instance, at one point you have to double back and save a mermaid from a kraken to get an item that lets you breathe water... and then you can keep moving ahead by swimming through a flooded area. All said, none of it's very confusing, and the action's pretty engaging. You can swing your weapons in various directions, which is handy since there are a lot of foes who will come at you from above or below. A lot of the monsters bear superficial resemblance to the orcs, goblins and other standbys of fantasy media; others are just weird. You move through environments mundane and strange, from caves to villages to places where the whole floor is just crunched-up bones. The world of Cadash has heavy hitters too; periodically there's a boss monster waiting to add your name to the hero obituary.

Satan's seen worse than your Mardi Gras beads and your nightgown.

Satan's seen worse than your Mardi Gras beads and your nightgown.

The graphics are very crisp and colorful, and seem to translate well to the console ports with very little loss of vibrancy. With an original palette of 4,096 colors, it's not a drab game by any measure. Cadash also has decent sound, although SFX are sparing; the music is respectably well done, but sometimes seems a bit meandering. Some loops can even be a bit maddening, but that almost seems appropriate. Nitpicking aside, it's worth exploring the soundtrack for the handful of good tunes in it.

Cadash merits a strong 8 out of 10. It's a title I'm sorry I missed in arcades, but the gameplay I've seen for the arcade original leads me to believe that my experience on the TG-16 is pretty authentic. It's a great melding of action and RPG elements, it's got a lot to keep players engaged and sweating, and its over-the-top fantasy elements make it memorable among its contemporaries of the time.

Thanks, RetroFans! See you later in September for more!

Thanks, RetroFans! See you later in September for more!

 

 

Hall of Shame: LJN 1989

We've been over the coals with LJN before. Not just me. Everyone has. I'm far from the first hack to put his fingers on a keyboard and write about this stuff, and it's been established that 1) LJN games mostly sucked but 2) a couple of them didn't. Well, these three sure do. All were released in 1989, seemingly to contrast tons of great NES titles released that year, before, and after. In fact, it seems as if LJN's very purpose for a span of years was to produce terrible licensed games for any intellectual property they could wrangle.

I did not have to narrow this article down to three games. Out of mercy, I chose to.

 

Back To The Future (NES)

LJN/Beam Software, 1989

We all hoped this would be good, right? I mean, the 1985 film is undeniably one of the best things to have come out of the 80s, period. How can you screw this up?

Apparently the quick answer to that is, “let LJN handle it.”

When we turn our NES on, we're greeted by a short, repetitive, and spiritually empty loop of music. Get used to this, because unless you mute your TV, it's what you'll be hearing for a while. The introductory level consists of a town street which, with or without you, moves forward at a steady pace. Everyone and everything on this street wants to hurt you, and that isn't hard. Like, don't even touch a fence or a bench. Marty's pretty fragile. If you ever make it past this first stage, there's a handful of others that are pretty much the same, broken up by a series of mini-games. Where have I heard that music before? Oh, that's right, EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE GAME, FROM THE MOMENT I TURNED ON THE NES.

The world is a living hell no matter where you are in time.

The world is a living hell no matter where you are in time.

Now, I understand the concept of making a game difficult so as to give it good replay value. No one wants a cake walk, especially not at the price point an NES cart sold for back then ($30-40 new). However, if you make it stupidly difficult AND have it look and sound like crap, people will feel like you stole that $30-40 from them and stuck a turd in their pocket as “collateral.” The combined elements of this game make it a capital offense. The graphics look more at home on a console from the previous generation, there are minimal sound effects (except for that AWESOME F*CKING MUSIC THAT PLAYS ON LOOP FOREVER), and it's really hard to get into what you're doing when a bench can kill you. The only saving graces are the diner and guitar mini-games, if you can make it to them.

LOOK GUYS IT'S JUST LIKE THE MOVIE

LOOK GUYS IT'S JUST LIKE THE MOVIE

 

X-Men (NES)

LJN/Pixel, 1989

This time we've got a reliably cool and popular comic license, one that would later translate itself fairly well onto 16-bit systems and the arcade platform. This one writes itself; just get a good set of programmers and artists on it, and we'll be golden, right?

Instead we got this weird top-down mess. More laughable art that seems to mock the characters represented more than anything else. We've got marginally better music than the previous title (in fact, the menu music is downright grooveworthy) but more Pong-style sound effects. Level design seems random and meandering; in fact, one could argue that the levels were just pieced together. Imaginative design also led to enemies like giant springs with googly eyes. It often seems like LJN had a sort of bland contempt for video game consumers. “You'll buy anything.”

Well, that may have been true, and arguably still is today, but that's beside the point.

Two-player action is easily ground to a halt by the fact that the characters move at very different speeds; it is, in fact, possible to get the slower character trapped behind something irrevocably, effectively killing the game. There's also a set of clues combining things you learn from the game with information on the cartridge itself, and these clues are supposed to help unlock the final level. Enough with that kind of arcane bullshit, we all played Simon's Quest and we had to buy that issue of Nintendo Power to get anywhere. Thankfully, Konami produced the X-Men arcade title and Sega handled the Genesis game.

 

Friday the 13th (NES)

LJN/Atlus, 1989

I will start with something positive: the title screen kicks ass.

Unfortunately, that's where the ass-kicking ends, unless it's Jason kicking kids' asses off-screen while you try and fail to navigate your way to where it's happening.

Oh, good. I'll only have to look at this five or six thousand times every few minutes to find out I've gone halfway in the wrong direction.

Oh, good. I'll only have to look at this five or six thousand times every few minutes to find out I've gone halfway in the wrong direction.

The biggest issue most players have with this one is the absolutely counter-intuitive map interface. Think you're going the right way? Better check... SURPRISE, YOU'RE NOT. Meanwhile, that car-horn sound you keep hearing? The one that seems to match up with the number of kids slowly decreasing? That's Jason Voorhees, going nuts with a machete in a cabin on the other side of the camp. You'd like to get there in time to stop him, wouldn't you? Tough shit. Don't worry, though. Jason occasionally takes time out from frenzied streaks of infanticide to personally murder you at random. He is pretty much invincible until you achieve a bunch of stuff later in the game (while simultaneously keeping him from killing kids). In his absence, you're accosted by waves of nondescript zombies, because LJN is all about phoning it in when it comes to details.

You like repetitive music loops, right? Because, while the instrumentation has gotten a little richer, the composition surely hasn't. In fact, the music when you're outside is probably even shorter and more annoying than the main theme from the Back to the Future game. Have fun listening to it while you get lost in the woods, looking for stuff you need in order to finish this game. At least here, you can throw away all pretense of the map being useful, because it does jack shit for you.

But hey, if you're that committed to finishing this game, that's your problem, not mine. You might want to get your head examined.

I'll eventually get the wind up to talk down some more terrible games, but goodbye for now, RetroFans. See you in September for more articles and videos!

 

Silver Surfer (Software Creations, 1990)

As a kid, I faded in and out of the comic book thing. Storylines changed rapidly, and it always seemed like they were in the middle of one when I'd jump back in. I always liked the characters, however, especially the really colorful (and powerful) entities in Marvel's “cosmic” setting. One of the titles I often checked in with was Fantastic Four, and they were always out in space dealing with malevolent living planets or matter-consuming mega-giants bent on subjugating Earth. The FF had some allies out there too, and one of the more interesting ones to me was Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer.

Silver Surfer had his own comic book, but would show up elsewhere pretty regularly. He became the herald of Galactus to save his lover's life when his world was claimed by Galactus, then turned on the planet-gobbling demigod when the crosshairs were set on Earth. Obviously there's tons more that could be said, but I'm not an expert. I know he holds the Power Cosmic, which makes him sort of like a shiny version of DC's Superman with a cool surfboard. He's a cosmic badass, is the point, and he belongs out there in space where things get heavy constantly.

I mean, who the hell wants to work for this guy? Flies up on his Rascal scooter with planet all over his face and yells at you to fly through the broken ferris wheel over and over. this is not what I signed up for, Galactus.

I mean, who the hell wants to work for this guy? Flies up on his Rascal scooter with planet all over his face and yells at you to fly through the broken ferris wheel over and over. this is not what I signed up for, Galactus.

Silver Surfer got his own NES game in 1990, and it's a divisive subject among retro gaming fans. Some of them think it does the character no justice, not to even mention its incredible difficulty. There are many who do like it, including myself, but even I won't say it's a classic. What I will say is that it has its merits.

"OKAY, WE'RE DONE SCREWING AROUND OUT HERE, GO GET THAT DEVICE FOR ME. I COULD PROBABLY DO IT MYSELF AS ONE OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE'S MOST POTENT BEINGS, BUT YOU... YOU DO IT."

"OKAY, WE'RE DONE SCREWING AROUND OUT HERE, GO GET THAT DEVICE FOR ME. I COULD PROBABLY DO IT MYSELF AS ONE OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE'S MOST POTENT BEINGS, BUT YOU... YOU DO IT."

The game plays like a shoot-em-up more than anything else. In fact, that's pretty much what it is, alternating from side-scrolling to top-down depending on the stage you're in but maintaining the same formula regardless. The story is pretty stock and simple: you, the Surfer, have been summoned by Galactus to retrieve some kind of Cosmic Device to combat the intrusion of the Magick Realm upon reality. Of course, the device is in pieces, each one held by a different villain somewhere in space. You get to choose which order you do the levels in, kind of like Mega Man. Finishing each stage involves avoiding some pretty heinous obstacles while shooting enemies with silver pellets. You can collect little spheres that act as an extra shooter for you, so you're firing two or three pellets at once. You can also get extra bombs, which are helpful since they clear the screen. Anyone familiar with the shmup genre will tell you that clearing the screen is helpful, since a common tactic for ramping up difficulty is to cram it full of things trying to kill you all at once. And trust me, there's plenty of that going on. For a guy with the Power Cosmic, Silver Surfer sure has a lot of cosmic things willing and able to murder him at a moment's notice in this game.

From the gruesome to the weird, mundane or cosmic, you can't say the game doesn't at least LOOK cool.

I'll be honest, the only boss character I recognize in the regular stages is Mephisto, because he's basically Marvel Comics' Satan. I never heard of the other ones before, but they check out. The boss of the Magik Realm is pretty clearly Mr. Sinister, a villain who apparently later downgraded to picking on the X-Men. None of the bosses are terribly hard, but getting to them is. In typical shoot-em-up fashion, you often find your attention divided evenly between clearing a path with your weapons and avoiding frequent pile-ups that can lead to instant death. There's a lot of narrow dodging, and having those extra sphere-things to provide you a wider swathe is crucial to survival. Dying once means you have to build your arsenal back up from scratch, and it can be frustrating.

So frustrating, in fact, that this is the "you lost a life" screen. It's just him crying. 100% appropriate.

So frustrating, in fact, that this is the "you lost a life" screen. It's just him crying. 100% appropriate.

The graphics are pretty good, and in fact there's a lot of background visuals that are praiseworthy in their detail and effect. The music, though, is what this game is held high for (when it's held high at all). Composed by Tim and Geoff Follin, the score is a thrilling combination of breakneck prog-rock goodness and flowing melody. In an era when Konami and Sunsoft were using proprietary cartridge-mounted add-ons to augment the NES's sound suite, this soundtrack gets tons of bump and spank out of what's already there. I highly encourage you to take a listen!

I'm going to rate this game differently than others; I'm giving Silver Surfer as a whole 6/10, but its music gets a 10/10. The game itself is a decent addition to the shooter genre that I feel gets a bum rap, but I will admit that it's a tad on the ridiculous side. What really saves it is the soundtrack, which is mind-blowing.

See you at the end of the month, folks!

See you at the end of the month, folks!

Night Trap (Digital Pictures/Sega/Hasbro, 1992)

I can't tell if I'm reviewing a game or a movie with this one, RetroFans. I'll leave that up to you.

When the CD-driven generation of consoles and console add-ons hit in the early 90s, they offered unprecedented opportunities in terms of home console gaming. More data, better data, could be stored on the new medium. This included actual video footage and live-recorded audio, not just pixel-mapped images and digitized sound effects. One of the less esoteric devices on the market was the Sega CD (called the Mega-CD overseas), which hooked up to your Genesis or Mega Drive and lent it astounding capabilities. At least in theory, that's how it worked.

After a while, it got to be more like playing with Transformers than hooking up a video game system.

After a while, it got to be more like playing with Transformers than hooking up a video game system.

The vast majority of titles released for Sega's CD ROM attachment were simply gently-retooled incarnations of Genesis titles, usually with expanded gameplay options, slightly better sound, or touched up graphics.

Then we had games like Night Trap, which blurred the line between console and cinema.

You left the screen door open again, the house is full of bloodsuckers, and Dana Plato is pissed.

You left the screen door open again, the house is full of bloodsuckers, and Dana Plato is pissed.

Night Trap was originally filmed in 1987 for Hasbro, who had something called Control-Vision in development at the time. Codenamed “NEMO” during its development, the system was to use VHS tapes instead of cartridges. The quiet death of NEMO is its own fairly boring story, but it resulted in Night Trap's footage being shelved for four years, until it was bought in 1991 by a company called Digital Pictures... who just happened to know what to do with it. Some extra trimmings were added and the final product was released in 1992, quickly followed by a version that also utilized Sega's 32X attachment for even better graphics. The title was eventually ported to the 3DO and the PC later on.

The film footage stars two notable Hollywood names (at least, notable to us Retro nerds): Dana Plato, whose notoriety comes from Diff'rent Strokes and her tragic end; and Andras Jones, known to horror fans as Rick from the fourth Nightmare on Elm Street installment. The third notable star is you, the player. You star as the pivotal member of the SCAT (Sega Control Attack Team). Your job is complicated, to say the least; you see, girls have been disappearing at the Martin house (which is described as a winery as well as a residence). A new group of young ladies will be arriving soon, one of whom is an undercover agent (played by Plato). You must watch through a set of cameras (one at a time, or how would it be challenging?) to keep an eye on them, find out what's happening to them, and neutralize threats using a strange set of Scooby-Doo style booby traps throughout the house that you've covertly been given control of. It's possible for the hosts to find the cable connecting you to the trap system and unplug you, so you have to defend against that as well. Your hands, literally and figuratively, are full.

I never want this dude as my boss in real life.

I will straight up tell you: this game is not a casual one. Gameplay is borderline stressful, but it can be very fun. Constant vigilance (or elaborate memorization) is required. If you're off by even a few seconds, you get the privilege of watching helplessly as the young women are kidnapped and drained by Augers. 

What are Augers, you say? Well, they're sort of like vampires, but decidedly less pleasant, if that's possible (it is).

Those dudes in the right-hand picture? The ones all done up like Dracula's Olympic fencing team? Those are Augers. 

And what does the Martin family have to do with this? Well, I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say if they unplug your trap control cord, it's not just because they think someone's stealing their cable.

Oh. Good.

Oh. Good.

Along with Doom, Mortal Kombat, and other video games from the time period, Night Trap figured strongly into the early 90s Senate hearings on video game violence that eventually brought us the ESRB. Night Trap was cited as having, among other qualities, “an unprecedented level of realism” and as depicting “an effort to trap and kill women.” Sega went so far as to take it off the shelves after its initial release, making the original version a relative rarity to this day. The CD/32X and subsequent ports were released after the outcry had died down, along with a reissue of the base Sega CD version.

In 2014 the original producers made an effort on Kickstarter to reinvigorate Night Trap, claiming they'd even look into doing sequels if the project was successful. To keep that story short, it wasn't. However, the original footage remains popular on YouTube and elsewhere on the web, and most conversations among gamers that touch on the Sega CD inevitably involve Night Trap. Other games in a similar vein followed, such as 1994's Double Switch, but by then these elements of gameplay were more commonplace. Night Trap was the one that made the waves.

As one of the more innovative and memorable titles for the Sega CD, not to mention an overall decent game, I give Night Trap 8 out of 10. It's worth taking a look at, and it's definitely worth playing if you find yourself so fortunate as to get a chance.