The Revenge of Shinobi [The Super Shinobi] (12/2/1989)

(Guest post thoughtfully provided by buddy-in-residence of the The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), Brandon Teel. As usual, he absolutely knocked it out of the park. Technically this is out of order, but I doubt anyone will really mind.)

First of all, Revenge of Shinobi is easily the best game of the Genesis’ first year.  Second, it’s easily one of the best games in the system’s entire library.  While Sonic understandably gets the credit for showing off the best of the Genesis’ capabilities and turning the system from a competitor into a world-beater, if anyone had been paying attention there was already Revenge of ShinobiRevenge of Shinobi is the kind of game you’d see being played at your friend’s house – the one whose parents were frickin’ loaded – and wonder what the hell you were doing messing around with this bush league Nintendo stuff.  That’s not to say there aren’t arguably better games yet to come out on the NES, that’s beside the point; Revenge of Shinobi was just a shockingly good, incredibly polished, beautiful game that constituted the windmill gutpunch of the Sega Genesis’ opening flurry, one that could make even someone lukewarm on Sega’s arcade ports sit up and take notice.

My own experience until recently, when I was asked to write this piece, was seeing Revenge of Shinobi in the game magazines of the time.  As a late adopter of the NES, an upgrade from the limp offerings of the Sega Master System, I was very, very happy with Nintendo’s machine.  But though I professed my undying fealty at the shrine of the gray toaster, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of curiosity on seeing the shots of the sixteen-bit games in print.  Revenge of Shinobi, in particular, was an eye-popper.  Even in the postage stamp sized shots, blurred and artifacted from late-eighties screen capture technology, the level of detail and colour was so above and beyond anything else out there, even if you couldn’t tell exactly what was so detailed.  The image of the Zeed fight – the last boss – stands out in my memory even today; that giant shock of hair being flung across the screen, meticulously detailed and shaded; I couldn’t tell what it even was but I knew it looked cool as anything.

On researching this article, I have become utterly and completely infatuated with Revenge of Shinobi, considering it among the best action games I’ve ever played.  But this is, oddly enough, a recent development.  Even after emulators came around and I voraciously (illicitly) consumed the entire libraries of five or six different game platforms, I never did give Revenge of Shinobi a proper chance, though.  Despite the memory of its impression on me as a child burned into my brain, I didn’t play it much past the first stage.  I could see that it was a solid enough game, that much is obvious.  But when you have the entire library of every pre-millennial video game console at your fingertips, it becomes easy to take games for granted if they don’t provide that rush of immediate gratification as soon as you turn it on.

This is because Revenge of Shinobi is a slow burn.  It’s methodical, it creeps along, it’s about carefully engaging in every encounter and engraving it into your memory.  It is also a very hard game.  Anyone expecting to be able to run through the first level and, like some kind of scene from Ninja Scroll, slicing through everything in your path and not even waiting for them to die before dashing forward and leaving rent, blood-spurting bodies in your wake, is going to be in for a rude shock.  Enemies are tough, and comparatively smart.  There are samurai who react to your positioning and raise their guard in whichever direction you attack from, there are ninja who switch up their shuriken tossing to hit you and then jump out of the way when you try to engage, and although there are tricks to deal with the entire roster of enemies quickly and efficiently, your first few games are generally marked with a swift and severe beating.  Even tackling the very first boss, a giant, nigh-invulnerable samurai, is a trial which takes a not inconsiderable amount of finesse to figure out.  If you stick it out past the initial slope of difficulty, you realize you can’t play this game like the swift, stealthy ninja you would imagine a game like this would play like.  To make a comparison to film, this is less a quick, cheap ninja flick and more of a chanbara; less American Ninja, more Sanjuro.  Taking each encounter one by one, observing the enemy’s attacks, and then quickly dispatching them when you see an opening.

Unlike most of the Genesis’ hits thus far which had been adapted from arcade games – Ghouls & Ghosts, in particular – Revenge of Shinobi feels designed especially for the home console.   It’s both as leisurely paced as you might like it, and offers you a number of concessions to your skill level.  There’s no ominous timer above you forcing you forward, you move at a walking pace, and with the difficulty settings that serve to increase the number of lives you start with, you’re given more than enough chances to make it through to either win the game or quit in frustration.  The ninja magic you’re given is relatively plentiful, giving you one shot at the beginning of each level plus offering you bonus pickups along the way.  Between the spell that lets you take four hits without taking damage or flinching, and the spell which causes you to explode, damage the enemies, then reassemble with full health and one less life, this magic, used judiciously, can help even a fairly mediocre player make it through to the end.  Used judiciously, and not like a total idiot, I should say.  You’ll feel like a total chump for using the ninja magic, though, if you’re anything like me.

The pace further is reflected in your moveset.  Your primary attack is throwing kunai, but you’re given a limited number.  When you get up close to an enemy or otherwise run out of kunai, you can engage with a short knife attack (or a kick if you’re crouching).  You can also double jump, and attacking while double jumping will shower the enemy with a spread of kunai.  This spread of kunai becomes increasingly more vital as you progress in the game; however, this uses up your precious supply like they were going rotten.  Each group of enemies you run into requires a careful assessment of your capabilities – can you deal with them with your kunai, are you going to have to hit them with a flurry of kunai so they can’t get a shot off before you land, can you get close enough to engage with a melee attack?  There’s also a power-up item which turns your kunai into powerful fireballs, changes your puny knife attack into a full-fledged sword slash, and allows you to block projectiles simply by moving forward.  This power-up will make you much, much more survivable, but being hit once will cause you to lose the power-up.  This is almost a mini-game in of itself, one that seems to be directly descended from the original Shinobi (single-hit Rolling Thunder clone that it was) in figuring out how to make it through the stages with your power-up intact so that you can easily take out the bosses.

This is coupled with the amount of technique required to pull off the double jump.  Unlike other games where you can double jump at any arbitrary point along the arc, you are given maybe a half second at the peak of the arc to pull it off.  Panicking and mashing are punished; mastery, careful planning, and execution is where you want to be.  A slip of the finger is often the dividing line between a masterful dispatch and ingloriously plummeting into the drink.  This is something you will be doing a lot of, as the allotment of enemies in each stage were carefully considered by the game’s designers and placed to cause you the maximum amount of psychological pain, allowing you to become cocky, then springing a sniper on you in the next screen who promptly knocks you off a ledge and kills you instantly.  I liken Revenge of Shinobi to a stereotypical master in a martial arts movie’s training montage; standing to the side with a taciturn, impenetrable scowl, while giving you seemingly impossible tasks, then smacking you with a bamboo rod when you make a mistake, telling you “AGAIN!”

But it isn’t as if the game doesn’t make the struggle worthwhile.  Revenge of Shinobi is gorgeous, varied, and has one of the best soundtracks on the Genesis, period.  This is the game that put Yuzo Koshiro on the map for a lot of us out there, and it’s not just that he was the most canny composer in gamedom at that time (managing to fanangle a titlescreen credit).  Koshiro, who proves time and time again to be possibly the most versatile Japanese game composer out there, provides a soundtrack that would have sounded ultra-modern and hip in 1989 and is still bangin’ as all get-out in 2011.  A mix of traditional japanese instrumentals, house, jazz, funk, and heavy metal, brought to bear with Koshiro’s typically excellent FM programming.  Probably best known is the boss track, Terrible Beat, a rocking hard techno track that gets your blood pumping for boss bustin’, but literally every other track on the soundtrack is fantastic.  From the unforgettable first stage jam “The Shinobi”, a Japanese-flavoured house track with an incredible beat, or Ninja Step, an industrial dance banger perfect for the factory stages it illuminates, to “The Dark City”, a smooth, jazzy joint that nevertheless keeps the driving momentum of the soundtrack going strong.  There are shades of Koshiro’s later Streets of Rage soundtracks here, with their contemporary electronic sensibilities, but Revenge of Shinobi still stands tall on its own merits.

Coupled with a soundtrack that never lets up, neither does the game itself – as you inexplicably travel from Japan to the US, to Detroit and then back to California, and finally to New York City to take down the evil Neo-Zeed Organization, there’s scarcely a level which doesn’t have some new trick.  In one level you find yourself jumping between a freeway and the catwalk outside, attempting to avoid this one persistent red Honda trying to run you down while at the same time evading ninja women leaping from inconspicuous nun habits, in another you jump from log-to-log across a waterfall; there’s a speeding train, an airship with doors that randomly swing open to spit you out, and, perhaps most infamously, a labyrinth of doors at the end.

From these stages, you meet with the bosses – and yes, this game is notorious for its rather cavalier attitude toward other people’s copyrights, with you, depending on the ROM version, fighting Spiderman, Batman, Devilman, Godzilla, and even some kind of canonically problematic fusion of The Incredible Hulk and The Terminator.  There are some standouts – the Spiderman/Batman fight for sure, and not just for its jaw-dropping lack of propriety; the gigantic Godzilla fight; the rock-hard final battle against Zeed (who is apparently Kabuki: Quantum Fighter’s bad apple cousin) who relentlessly tosses his obnoxiously accurate and incredibly dude-ruining hair at you, as the ceiling drops on your girlfriend all the while.  There are some duds as well – the super-computer in the airship stage that takes ages to kill unless you’re really brave/foolish, and the simple and unimpressive battle against flashing red nodes on a speeding truck carrying a nuke – but all in all, it’s never boring.

So yes, I’ve been positively gushing about it for paragraphs now, seeing as I am quite taken with the game.  Is there anything wrong with it, though?  Of course, it’s not perfect.  It’s an early Sega Genesis game, and it’s missing some of the niceties that people come to expect from games these days.  The game really likes throwing you off ledges into pits, causing instant death – not so bad in of itself, if you could see it coming, but Revenge of Shinobi really, really likes to use the Genesis’ vastly improved memory capabilities over the eight-bit generation to hit you with attacks from offscreen enemies.  In almost all cases, these unseen attacks are precisely designed to knock you into a pit making, on most levels, a clear on your initial run effectively impossible.  Plus it also has a particular fondness, on the levels which are multiple screens high, for giving you a lot of blind jumps and no way to see what’s under you.  It’s a memory game beyond all else, for better or worse.  While painstakingly practiced play will have you leaping around and stylishly busting whole groups of enemies before they have a chance to react, the neophyte would not be remiss in thinking that this game has a tendency to push complete bunk on you.

And then the labyrinth stage.  Since Super Mario Bros. 1’s final level, mazes have been a time-tested method of giving the last stage just a bit of extra kick-in-the-pants.  And, ever since then, final level mazes have been awful and infuriating.  It’s not particularly hard, and it’s devoid of the instant death of previous stages – but this is actually to its detriment; it replaces brutal, relentless, unforgiving action with dull confusion and travelling the same corridors five or six or ten times.  The game doesn’t fizzle out with this – the last boss battle is, as mentioned, completely excellent.  But it’s probably the most glaring blemish on an otherwise superb game.

But those are, in consideringhow much this game gets right, minor complaints.  It’s a brilliant game.  It’s the first game I can see as justifiably making people want a Sega Genesis, and one of the first games to really show off the potential of the new generation of video game consoles.  Unlike most of the Genesis’ library before it, it is emphatically not just an arcade port but rather an action game uniquely suited to its home format.  It’s a game of which it’s difficulty will constantly, frustratingly, stymie your attempts to master it, but its solid gameplay and constant inventiveness will keep you coming back for another try.  Sonic may be the symbol of Sega’s ascendance in the home game arena, but this game – Revenge of Shinobi – is the real turning point for this system.

Posted in Platformer, Winter 1989 | 5 Comments

Herzog Zwei (12/15/1989)

Believe it or not, there was a time before the internet when the differences between a game’s Japanese and overseas release were shrouded in mystery.  This sticks out for me mostly due to reading a strategy guide for Super Mario All-Stars that gleefully pointed out that “The Lost Levels” were really the lost secret Super Mario Bros. 2.  At the time, no one believed me on this matter, but you can’t click three hyperlinks without someone confusing this anecdote for a nugget of legitimate knowledge.  The same with the Super Nintendo Final Fantasy games and how the subject of today’s write-up, Herzog Zwei, defined the real time strategy genre way before those scoundrels at Blizzard and Westwood stole all their ideas.  The game was just unfairly maligned because gaming magazines didn’t understand the intricacies of the genre and just wondered why their slow, janky fighter jet exploded randomly. Of course, these sorts of statements are pedantic at best, and in the case of Herzog Zwei, entirely wrong. But we here at the The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG) are not here to admonish the past, and while Herzog Zwei is certainly something of a clunker, there is no shortage of heart to be found within.

I find it hard to believe that most people who bought the game just assumed it was a mechanically unwieldy top-down shooter in the vein of the parts of Thunder Force II (Another game Techno-Soft ported to the Mega Drive) that no one liked, but the game certainly doesn’t go out of its way to convince you otherwise. Starting up the game puts you on one of several maps flying your aforementioned fighter jet, and without any guidance one might fly around until they run out of fuel and promptly explode right as they finally find the several dozen tanks the computer had managed to build while your inferior neural pathways soaked in the detailed but muddily colored landscapes.  However, good old fashioned button mashing reveals that you can turn into a slow moving robot that controls in the incredibly unintuitive “shoot in the direction you’re moving” style that Commando pioneered.  A little bit more reveals a menu densely packed with consonants, and that is where the real meat of the game lies.

You see, when you build a unit in this menu (a two part process of selecting the unit you’d like and the command you’d like to give it, mercifully detailed in the game’s Wikipedia page) a spanner flashes on the screen for a few moments before a thumbs up lets you know that your little soldier is ready to be sent to his death across the map.  From there, you have to move your fighter back to the base, pick up the unit, and drop it off.  All of this costs money and energy, which can only be obtained by building  fragile infantry men with the command to capture one of several vacant bases that litter the game’s various maps.  The idea is to manage both your resource collection and offensive effort while anticipating your opponent’s ideas and stratagems. So basically, it is a real time strategy game, with the top-down shooter parts of Thunder Force II no one liked added into the mix.

And like most real time strategy games, single player veers wildly between arbitrarily unfair and devastatingly dull. You can select the computer’s difficulty level, but that only changes the advantage the Mega Drive has over you to begin with. Beyond that, it plays the exact same way ,with the complete precision of a game playing itself.  It could just be because I am entirely unwilling to devote the time I needed to learn the intricacies of championship-level Herzog Zwei play (which exists) but even when I was winning the single player campaign was incredibly stifling.

So why does this game regularly show up in the tail end of THE XX BEST GAMES EVER lists? At least partially because of successful myth-building, but mostly because if you can find someone with the same relative skill level or lack thereof, it’s a surprisingly fun multiplayer game.  I was entirely ready to write off the game as a textbook example of an over-rated classic before getting a few rounds in with my Non-Plussed Research Assistant/ The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG) Girl-In-Residence Mary It turns out the game is pretty fun whenever your opponent is just as clumsy and frustrated as you are.  Is it fun enough to stick out, regardless of your nostalgia? More experienced minds than my own say no. And it’s hard to argue with that. But while it may not be the holy grail or forgotten gem of a beloved genre that some people think it is, there’s certainly some merit in the nano-managed chaos

Posted in Action, Strategy, Winter 1989 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mahjong Cop Ryuu – Shiro Ookami no Yabou (12/14/1989)

It really goes without saying that not every game released in Japan makes it to the West.  So far the Mega Drive has been lucky in that it has only seen a small handful of games that  weren’t localized, a trait that will come to almost define the system’s library (most likely due to the incredible disparity in popularity of the system in America and Europe versus Japan.  In Japan, the system was marketed early on as a real contender for arcade-style graphics and game play, but lost that market to a demographic already spoiled by the PC Engine and disillusioned by Sega’s slow start, something from which the system never really recovered)  So far there have only been two games released in Japan that didn’t see an American release, and neither of them were a particularly huge loss for the Western world.  Sure, a flashy war game and a surreal Technicolor platformer probably wouldn’t have hurt the American success of the Genesis, but they could have been ported over if someone wanted.  Even Super Hydlide made it over during the opening salvo, and that has to be at least as inscrutable to an American gamer circa 1989 as any boss battle against a racist caricature of a Japanese man dressed as Cinderella.

(On a related note: The Oso-matsu Kun article continues to be the most eagerly sought out and read page on this website.  Could some kind soul explain why in the comments?)

However, during the game deluge of December 1989, Sega managed to release something that managed to completely and utterly evade the interests of Western game fans: A novelistic adventure game/Mahjong simulator about a psychic detective called Mahjong Cop Ryuu – Shiro Ookami no Yabou (Mahjong Cop Ryu: White Wolf’s Ambition, more or less).  And this isn’t mahjong as we understand it on this side of the Pacific either (that’s technically Mahjong Solitaire and was something of a fad in Japan at the time due to Activision’s Shanghai); this is the full on inscrutable betting game Mahjong, modified for two players  and to accommodate the psychic powers and lightning bolts that a name like Mahjong Cop Ryuu naturally suggests. All of this comes in handy when Ryuu must use his wits, psychic cheating abilities, a quick detective’s intuition and a quicker gun to face a conspiracy to…

…I have no idea, honestly.  Even with a functional knowledge of how to play  Mahjong (it’s ultimately not that different than Western trick-taking  games like Hearts) I found myself completely unable to progress into the no-doubt seedy mahjong underworld of Mahjong Cop. The game doesn’t seem to have puzzles between the Mahjong matches, but what it does feature is endless dialog trees, each rich with heavily condensed and colloquial Japanese text.  It’s entirely possible to power through the first dialog with what looks like Anime Terminator and get to the part where he soundly trounces you in a game of Mahjong, but answering one prompt wrong sends you back to the beginning for more tedious, slow scrolling text  (complete with every character receiving its own obnoxious typewriter sound effect like a high school student’s Power Point presentation).

So what am I qualified to say about Mahjong Cop? Precious little, honestly.  The cover art is absolutely amazing and rife with all sorts of out and out copyright infringement.  The music is also pretty great, as witnessed by the incredible opening song:

And I am sure if you understand Japanese, you are in for a treat if this guide is to be believed.  But unfortunately, Mahjong Cop is just a game that I am linguistically and culturally unequipped to play.   And considering the general lack of enthusiasm in translating the few lost “classics” (apparently Mahjong Cop is hardly beloved in Japan) for the Mega Drive amongst the emulation community, it will likely remain that way.  Fortunately, I think we can manage.

Posted in Adventure, Board Game, Winter 1989 | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Truxton [Tatsujin] (12/9/89)

Here is another guest post from friend of The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), Joe of the gaming podcast OnTheStick and, judging by his internet presence, everything else in the world.  He’s graciously donated his time and shmup expertise to tackle Truxton, a game once famous for being one of the hardest arcade games in existence that is now more or less rightfully forgotten. I went ahead and posted the (very excellent) entirety of what he sent me, but felt the need to chime in from time to time. I went ahead and marked my comments in flowery purple as to not confuse the words of two very different men that united to mildly disprove of one game. Enjoy!

Hi there, denizens of Pre-Sonic Genesis.  My name is Joe and I’m from a nifty site called  CJ asked me to swing over and tell you guys about TruxtonTruxton is the first game on the Genesis from developer Toaplan.  That is, it’s the first game Sega licensed from Toaplan to reprogram themselves and release on the Genesis, as was their schtick at the time.  Still, by most accounts, it hews closely enough to the arcade version from Toaplan.

Toaplan merits some talk before getting to Truxton.  Toaplan was a prolific arcade developer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but they’re not a developer that’s remembered very well by Westerners.  The biggest reason for that is that they did not have a US branch.  Their games were all published in the US by others.  Acclaim, for example, published the NES port of Tiger-Heli, while DreamWorks published the later Fire Shark for the Genesis.  Still, they did a good number of games, mostly shooters, and don’t get much recognition for it.  They went out of business in the mid-‘90s, but two better known companies rose from their ashes.  The first was initially known as Raizing, but is now known as Eighting and they are the company behind Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.  The second is famed shoot-‘em-up developer Cave.

But enough about Toaplan.  Let’s talk about TruxtonTruxton is not a title that many people have nostalgia for, and with good reason.  Honestly… it’s mediocre.  It’s not bad per se, it’s just very middle of the road.  It’s standard, really.  And it’s very hard, but the difficulty comes from the wrong places.  Overall, it’s just not a memorable package. (The difficulty of the game is actually kind of put into perspective by the game’s Japanese title. Tatsujin roughly translates to “expert” or “master”; Toaplan wore the challenge of the game literally on the sleeve. Not that it makes it any less punishing or dull)

It’s a shoot-‘em-up that takes place in space, like so many others.  It scrolls vertically, though five stages that all have the same structure.  Each starts with a trip through space, then the second half of each stage is an asteroid base.  The story explains that some evil something or other sent these five asteroid bases to destroy earth.  It’s, uh, really original for a shooter.  On the other hand, no one cares about the story in a shooter.  Still, the story is indicative of just about everything else here.  None of it is original.  There are three different power ups, speed boosts, bombs (that are awesome looking skulls), it’s all bog-standard.  And it was already bog-standard in 1989.

The shoot-‘em-up is arguably the first videogame genre.  As such, its tropes are some of the most tired, but now it’s easier to get away with, since the genre is near-dead and it’s fans (like me) will grab just about anything that comes around just because it’s a new game in the genre.  In 1989, however, the genre was just about as strong as it had ever been.  The Genesis and the PC Engine (Turbografx-16, that is) were releasing these titles left and right, nevermind what you would see in an arcade at the time.  If you wanted to play a shooter in 1989, it was hard to take two steps without tripping over one, so there was no reason to spend time with one this average.

It even lacks the weirdness that CJ (and myself, and assuredly all other readers of this site) enjoy so much about the pre-1991 Genesis library.  It doesn’t have the sewer babies of Mystic Defender, it doesn’t have the Road Warrior-cum-Kafka aesthetic of Last Battle, it doesn’t have the dude running around in his drawers killing grim reapers of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.  It doesn’t have any of that.  It has your space ship.  Then some enemy space ships.  Aaaaaand that’s about all.  Space ships.  Mmmyep. (It does have what may be one of the first examples of your ship’s bomb attack cancelling out enemy bullets, which is kind of neat. But that’s about it)

As I said, the uninspired design is complemented by the brutal difficulty.  Just in case you weren’t bored into playing something else, Toaplan and Sega wanted to see to it you’d damn sure get frustrated enough to play something else.  When you die, you lose all of your speed power-ups.  And they aren’t very plentiful, which means that when you restart (at checkpoints, not where you died) you will be slow as molasses in a Wisconsin January (and I would know).  The enemies will all move faster than you, but more importantly, their bullets will move much, much faster than you.  And to top it off, your ship’s hitbox is massive. (Your entire ship, in fact, or at least enough of it to round up. Which was something of a Toaplan signature.)

As if that weren’t enough, there’s plenty of quarter-muncher design on display here.  My personal favorite being the myriad enemies that come from behind.  The problem with that is that with vertical shooters, the best place to be, especially if you’re still at the slowest speed you can be, is the bottom of the screen.  The enemies that come up do not telegraph at all, and, again, your hitbox is massive and so is theirs.  Basically, at that point memorization is your only path forward.  And that’s where I put the controller down.  The shoot-‘em-up is a genre that, when designed well, you can get good at.  That is to say, if you play a lot of these games, you can get good at the genre.  When a shooter falls on cheap tactics that can only be overcome with memorization, you lose what’s great about the genre.  It’s no longer about genre practice, it’s about specific game practice, and, as I’ve lamented, this game isn’t interesting enough to make me want to practice it.

So, yeah, the game is best described as “hard and boring,” which is probably the worst two words I could use to describe a videogame.  And perhaps at the time, the fact that it was the only shooter of its kind on the Genesis may have made it worth playing, but twenty two long years later, there are at least ten other shooters for the Genesis I could name off the top of my head that you would have more fun playing.  Fire Shark would be a good start, and it proves that Toaplan knew how to make this type of game.  Try that instead.

Posted in Shooter, Winter 1989 | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Revenge of Shinobi [The Super Shinobi] (12/2/1989)

This is just a placeholder, as what is unquestionably the best game of the first year and change of the Mega Drive’s life needs a little extra love and care from cool-pal-in -residence of The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), Brandon Teel.  Stay tuned for another guest post though, and I’ll be sure to replace this when the time comes!

EDIT: I went ahead and moved it here. Enjoy!

Posted in Winter 1989 | 1 Comment


I realize that I have more apologies about late posts on here than Sega has failed systems, but I am in the middle of a summer semester that leaves me with 12 hour academic days, so sadly Pre-Sonic Genesis will be a fairly low priority at the moment. Look forward to some guest posts in the near future though!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mystic Defender [Kujakuō 2 Gen-ei Jō] (11/25/1989)

For as long as games have been ported over from Japan,  they’ve been changed for Western audiences.  In  the time frame we are most interested in here at The Pre-Sonic Genesis Institute of Semi-Academic Chronological Gaming (PSGISACG), this was often done as a form of censorship to remove nudity, gore, cusses, and other such moral caltrops from video games to keep  them  suitable for what was perceived as largely a children’s hobby.  While I’ll leave the implications of this up to the reader (I’m relatively apathetic towards it; I don’t think pixilated gore is going to irreparably corrupt a second grader, but sincerely doubt the artistic vision of Last Battle was unduly compromised by replacing the gory Fist of the North Star license with a loose adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses), the fact is that many games saw drastic changes in their journey across the Pacific.  The early line-up of the Genesis has so far managed to avoid this.  With the exception of the melted faces of Arnold Palmer and Tommy LaSorda garnishing their respective title screens, very few things were changed in games for their US release, the previously mentioned Last Battle aside.  Somewhat surprisingly, this trend continues for the most part with today’s release, Mystic Defender.

That isn’t to say there aren’t considerable changes to Mystic Defender, but most of them are related to the license.  In Japan, the game was released as Kujaku Ō 2: Gen’eijō (The sequel to the game released for the Master System here as Spellcaster) and was the second game based on the anime and manga series Peacock King.  Given that the main character a) wears a traditional robe that also resembles a wedding dress, and b) is Lucifer [re]incarnate,  it’s understandable why things were changed up for the international release.  What is more surprising is how little the rest of the game has changed. The antagonist of the original release was Nobunaga Oda, Japan’s would-be conqueror and favorite video game villain, and Kujaku is renamed Joe Hayate and given a much more generic outfit, but beyond that the core game remains relatively untouched.  The only major bit of censorship in the original release of Mystic Defender is that the naked babies birthed out of gaped, bloody anuses in the second level were turned a lovely teal color so as to make the fact that they are pulped into mobile piles of twitching gore when shot slightly more palatable.  Given that I am a mentally sound and well-functioning member of society, I’d say this is a positive change.

Which brings me to the major draw of revisiting Mystic Defender this late in the 21st century: it is absolutely insane.  This insanity may peak at the second level sewer babies, but this is the first original game since Osomatsu-kun  that really flexes the graphical prowess of the Mega Drive.  Even the first level, a generic forest affair, is littered with four-armed ninja monks and a new boss every few minutes. The second level is some sort of nightmarish sewer system filled with the aforementioned demonic babies but also zombified four-armed monks that can summon giant moths and also turn into horribly misshapen bald heads and roll around, all bottled up by a Gregorian monk that can fly around and summon clones of himself that turn into giant robotic spiders  in a later level that resembles a giant demon’s spine.  The third level blatantly copies the works of H.R. Giger for a giant biomechanical maze full of undulating tentacles and even his famous Alien heads, repurposed here as flame throwers.  And so the game goes, until you slay Nobunaga (curiously wearing what resembles Crusades-era plate mail, a design decision I will only assume makes sense within the original context) inside what appears to be a space station overgrown with cartilage (again, this almost makes me want to seek out the source material) and face the final boss: A giant phallic monster that shoots semen with shark teeth from its exposed heart and  keeps a tight tentacle wrapped around the obligatory damsel in distress, whom is naked even in the original western release.

 The game itself is actually fairly breezy.  The gameplay is nothing special, and even though you are given a pretty wide array of spells, their utility is limited to certain situations to a degree that the default charge shot will see you through the majority of the game.  The game is also fairly short, due to a surprisingly lax difficulty level: it would be difficult to spend more than an hour or two to power through the game on your first try, even if you are as awful at video games as I am.  But beyond the Giger maze being palette-swapped for a later level, it’s a very entertaining hour or two. In fact, I’d say that Mystic Defender is probably the best action game for the system at this point, and certainly one of the few games so far that I can whole-heartedly recommend revisiting.   Sadly, this is one of the few first party Sega games from this era that hasn’t seen a rerelease or port, probably due to a combination of the license and the fact that you are setting babies on fire in the second level.  But as far as action games on the Genesis go, it’s difficult to get much better than Mystic Defender anywhere in the Mega Drive’s life.

Posted in Action, Platformer, Winter 1989 | 4 Comments