Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Duo-Ver: Software Sampler

Since I promised you earlier, here are brief reviews of a random assortment of TurboDuo titles.  Some of these games I enjoyed, and others not as much, but they're all worth mentioning here!


Even the explosions explode in Gate of Thunder.
It’s a little easy and a little generic, but it’s hard not to love this side-scrolling shooter, offered as the star attraction of the game-packed disc included with the TurboDuo.  You’re the pilot of the Hunting Dog, a sleek police ship, and it’s your mission to bring down Don Jingi and his seemingly limitless rebel forces.  Luckily, you’ll never be at a loss for weapons thanks to Wildcat, the cargo ship that frequently drops shields, homing missiles, and power-ups.  In fact, Wildcat is a little TOO generous, maxing out your firepower in minutes, then sweeping the playfield of enemies with each new visit.  Gate of Thunder may not be a challenging game, but it is a feast for the eyes and ears… your foes leave a trail of flames as they crash to the ground, bosses fill the screen with firepower and their own mass, and the synth-infused soundtrack is catchy and invigorating.  The end result is a game that wouldn’t have been out of place on the more advanced Sega Saturn or Playstation.


Er, yeah.  Thanks a lump, pal!
A little disclosure before I begin… I supplied three voices for the recent English fan dub of the game.  It seemed as good a way as any to achieve video game immortality!  With that out of the way, let’s talk about my complicated relationship with the Ys series.  I first played Ys on a Master System emulator in 1996, and found the combat system simplistic to the extreme and wholly unbecoming of an action RPG.  Despite this, I just couldn't stop playing... I was spellbound by the attractive graphics and charming characters.  That tradition continues with Ys IV, which throws enough twists into its beautifully illustrated story to keep you hooked for hours.  I still don’t like rubbing my crotch against monsters to slay them, but it’s easier to accept if you think of this as an ordinary RPG with really efficient combat, instead of the Zelda-esque action-adventure it first appears to be.


Singing at bats is actually more effective than you'd
think! Maybe it screws up their echolocation...
The last of the classic arcade-style Castlevania games is also the best… and curiously, the only one not released in the United States, where Castlevania reigns supreme.  (Before you ask, the watered down Super NES game most certainly does NOT count.)  It’s especially frustrating in hindsight, as Symphony of the Night was designed as both a sequel and a love letter to a chapter of the series most Americans never knew existed.  So what’s so great about Rondo of Blood, anyway?  Well, the CD-quality soundtrack, full of tunes that would later find their way into Symphony of the Night, is definitely a plus.  However, there’s also the sharp graphics, lush with detail and rich with color, and the stage designs, with their cleverly hidden forks in the road.  Revealing one of these alternate paths unlocks the option to play as Maria, a frilly beastmaster who’s just a few steps behind Marvel vs. Street Fighter’s Norimaru as the most hilariously incongruent bonus character in a video game.


"This is the greatest game EVER!" -
Every fourteen year old boy in 1992.
The Art of Fighting was one of a handful of story-driven Neo-Geo games offered as a response to Street Fighter II.  They didn’t have the nuanced technique or sure-footed control of Capcom’s smash hit, but damn if they didn’t make a strong first impression with their gripping plots and astonishing graphics!  The Art of Fighting took it to the next level with beefy brawlers whose faces bear the scars of combat and special moves which let out the resonant ring of a gong on impact.  The TurboDuo leaves no stone unturned in its conversion, and even tries to reproduce the zooming camera from the Neo-Geo game.  Without hardware scaling, the effect leaves something to be desired, but at least they tried!  It’s not the best fighting game on the TurboDuo, but The Art of Fighting smokes the decidedly less impressive conversions on the Super NES and Genesis.


"You cannot defeat me with gaping sphincters alone!"
Here’s a fun little anecdote for those interested… Forgotten Worlds was the game that cemented my decision to buy a Sega Genesis back in 1991.  I still stand by that decision, but if I had seen the TurboDuo version first, that Genesis would likely have stayed at the store.  It pains me to say this, but Forgotten Worlds on the TurboDuo towers above its Genesis counterpart as the best home port of this stylish shooter.  You lose the option to play with a friend (the system DOES only have one controller port, after all), but you get brighter colors, larger sprites, all the (embarrassing in retrospect) voice acting, and the top-notch arranged soundtrack you’d expect from a TurboDuo game.  For a hermit like me, that’s more than a fair trade.


Don't let the picture give you the wrong idea.
It's really, really not as cool as it looks.
This franchise didn’t get much traction in America, with only one game officially released here in the States.  After playing this, though, I’m thinking that may have been for the best.  Kaizo Chojin Schbibinman (a Japanese title which takes a strange turn for the Yiddish about halfway through) casts you as a sword-wielding cyborg, cutting his (or her!) way through hundreds of robot thugs.  The action is distressingly low on technique, with a sword swipe being your only means of attack, and the level design doesn't get interesting until later in the game… if you can stay awake that long.  The graphics in Kaizo Chojin Schmendrick or whatever are up to the TurboDuo’s usual high standards, with lots of color-drenched, futuristic scenery, but there’s little variety to be found… and little reason to spend much time with it.


Hey Goldar, why the long face? (And the Andy Rooney
eyebrows? And the crappy gameplay?)
A Sega Saturn it’s not, but the TurboDuo has its fair share of solid fighting games.  Street Fighter II’: Championship Edition!  Fatal Fury Special!  World Heroes II!  And then there’s Martial Champion, which doesn’t belong anywhere on that list.  Originally planned as a sequel to the groundbreaking Yie-Ar Kung Fu, Martial Champion juiced up that game’s graphics while barely evolving its prehistoric gameplay.  The TurboDuo version preserves everything you didn’t like about the arcade game while throwing out its sole saving grace, the massive characters.  Instead, you get shrimpy fighters that would barely cut the mustard on the GameBoy Advance.  Martial Champions is one of the few TurboDuo fighters on a disc that doesn’t require the performance-boosting Arcade Card… and believe me, it shows.


Leapin' larvae!
The troubled history of Strider on the TurboDuo is the stuff of legends… and myths.  This much is true… the game took years to finish, and its development was shifted away from the SuperGrafx after NEC realized that nobody owned one.  However, that rumor you heard about the despondent game designer who killed himself over the finished product?  Total bunk.  You’ll understand how the rumor gained so much traction when you play this, though.  Strip away the slick cut scenes and the voice acting and that extra round and it’s clear that the game is a step below its Genesis counterpart.  The character sprites are kind of fugly, the control isn’t nearly as responsive, and everything explodes into garish yellow clouds.  Beyond all that, the new stage is pretty contrived; a flat stretch of desert broken up with encounters against a tank and the world’s most athletic ant lion.  Should a wingless, bottom-heavy insect really be able to leap out of the ground like Shamu after a chunk of tuna on a stick?  Admittedly, that doesn’t make any less sense than a game that took three years to make being worse than its cartridge-bound Genesis counterpart.

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