100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #49: Windjammers/Flying Power Disc

WindjammersAES

Developer: Data East

Publisher: Data East/SNK

MVS Release Date: 17/Feb/1994

AES Release Date: 8/Apr/1994

Longplay

Expecting a Crossed Swords post instead of Windjammers? More on the slight change to this blog here.
In this yet again long delayed 100 Days Of MEGASHOCK! post, we’ll be looking at Data East’s classic, Windjammers, also known as Flying Power Disc, both excellent sounding titles in my opinion. Windjammers is a 1vs1 Frisbee-throwing (or to use the non-TM term, a Flying-Disc throwing) game, which in this context plays more like a super hyper version of Pong. Each player must try to score by throwing the disc past the other player and into a goal, or they can score by having the disc land flat on the opponent’s ground. There are yellow goals which score 3-points, and red ones that score 5-points, usually placed in harder-to-score positions (like the heavily guarded center). And if you get it to drop flat you get 2 points.
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Beach court is considered the “default” one

Controls are pretty simple: A throws the disc. B lobs the disc so you can have it go over your opponent and land flat. If you are on the receiving side, A+Directions makes you slide around to catch farther discs. And A+neutral makes you do a parry that sends the disc high above you. You do this to set up character-specific super throws that are very powerful and hard to catch (or choose to do a super lob with B, where you’ll throw the disc vertically over the opponent, and rather than falling flat like a regular lob, the disc would roll on the ground onto the goal earning you more points). You can bounce the disc off walls and, based on the court, off obstacle boards placed in the middle of the dividing net of the court. You can also twirl the stick in a circular motion before throwing and you’ll add a bit of “English” to the disc and make it curve, which can throw off your opponent.
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Compare the red and yellow goal areas in this Tiled court to the beach court above

There’s more nuance to the controls then it seems. When receiving the disc, the sooner you throw it, the faster your throw would be. This encourages quick play (throw as soon as you can and you’ll throw a “super sonic shoot” which is, as the name suggest, super fast). And it discourages dilly-dallying and thinking about where you should throw the disc. Wait too long and you’ll be forced to throw a very slow disc that’ll be easy to catch, or worse, easy enough to parry and turn into a super throw. In fact, throwing as soon as you can allows you to reverse super throws, super sonic shoots, or super lobs. So the game really does a great job presenting a simple risk-rewards system. When on the defensive end, you can choose to slide, which covers the most ground, but because it takes some time for recovery, you won’t be throwing fast discs or reversing supers with it easily, not to mention you’ll give the opponent some time to maneuver and re-position themselves. You can risk it a little and simply run and catch a disc. That enables you to throw it earlier, and maybe get a super sonic shoot or reverse a super move, but you might not make it and catch the disc in the first place. Or you can really risk it with a parry, which requires you to be stationary for a very short, but still precious, amount of time. Against fast to really fast throws, you might have to be basically guessing where a disc would be thrown to for you to realistically parry. But of course, it might be worth doing to get a super throw (If this all sounds a bit too much, this English-tutorial set up on Windjammers France might help explain things further).
Windjammers has 6 playable characters as follows:
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Keep an eye out for B.Yoo, you’ll see…

The group come from different countries, but what’s cool about them is that each character speaks in their native language, with recorded voice-clips. Each, as shown, have different stats and a unique supermove. But there’s also some hidden stats. For example, K. Wessel may have the worst running speed, but he makes up for it by having the furthest slide of the cast. Peculiarly, when messing with the dip switches, there’s an option to change between “Korea” and “U.K.”, changing it to the U.K. will give you this screen instead:
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Whoa, who is this S. Miller dude?

Note that B.Yoo has changed to “S.Miller” and now he’s from the U.K. It’s the same character with the same sprites and moveset but now he’s a British fellow with English voice-clips. This is probably a variation intended for the U.K. market. But something very interesting that might shed more about this can be found in the credits for Windjammer:
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The plot thickens.

Anyway, back to the game, Windjammers also 6 courses as follows:

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 The courses differ in size, layout, and sometimes scoring zones. Beach is the standard “default” course. Lawn is a bit wider. Tiled switches up scoring zones and puts the 5-points red zones on the easier far ends of each goal while the 3-points yellow zones are in the protected center. Concrete puts a couple of obstacles in the middle. Clay puts those obstacles a bit closer to each other in the middle of the dividing net. And finally, stadium functions mostly like the lawn stage, expect that the goal zones change as the scores change: The bigger the score lead one player has, the bigger their 5-points red zone becomes. Stadium is the only course to have any sort of handicap feature meant to lessen the advantage winning players have and ease a chance for a come back. Given that Windjammers operates in best-of-3-rounds based matches, I find this handicap mostly unnecessary.
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Check out this sick super move!

 Windjammers also has 2 bonus games you play when progressing in 1-player mode. There’s a bowling mini-game where you try to knock down pins with your disc. It follows standard bowling rules and such. The other (and definitely cooler) mini game is where you are a dog running on a beach trying to catch a disc thrown by your player character while avoiding and jumping over people and obstacles. It’s a pretty fun. Bowling one is is fun too.
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meow meow

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Damn, almost got a hole in one.

 And Windjammers as a whole is fun. It’s the perfect type of arcadey 2-player competitive game that exemplifies what was popular and great about the Neo Geo system: Simple controls, simple concept (it’s hyper pong, after all), various characters that look, sound, and play different, then there’s the variety from playing on different courts. And it’s super fun to watch, not just play. Seeing high level matches is a real treat, as a disc goes back and forth, getting faster and faster, seeing super throws get reversed and then reversed again. Nary a dull moment in a good match of Windjammers. Couple that with nice sprite-work and music, and you can see why Windjammers became a bonafide cult-classic.
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A lob.

Which might be why, in the year 2017, Windjammers is getting the first real internationally released port since the Neo Geo AES original on Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita, developed by the controversial DotEmu (you can read more about DotEmu’s checkered history with ports here). And that is a little odd. Windjammers, despite it’s coolness and seeming popularity at the time, was never ported home outside the Neo Geo AES. Neither on Playstation nor Saturn (which both consoles at the time received plenty of Neo Geo ports, including Data East titles like Fighter’s History Dynamite/Karnov’s Revenge, or Magical Drop). It never got released on Data East’s Arcade Classic collection on Wii. The only other port it received was on the Japanese Wii Virtual Console (which has since been taken down). There were plans for a sequel that got canned, with renowned current Shining-series and JP Adult game, or eroge, illustrator Tony Taka as character designer. But really, there’s more happening now with Windjammers than before, since it’s release in 94.
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You can make tricky shots by bouncing the disc off these boards in this clay court.

Why now? Well, the prevalence of emulators like MAME or fightcade makes it easy for anyone with even the most modest of PCs to play Neo Geo games, and even play them online with others. That brought new life and interest to Neo Geo titles that were popular at the time like KOFs and Metal Slugs, but also more overlooked ones like Breakers. Now Neo Geo emulation isn’t a new thing at all and it’s been around since the dawn of this century, but it seems part of the re-surging awareness of Windjammers in just the last few years was due to Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann, who in 2013, being a Neo Geo fan himself, made Windjammers into a local MP game that the Giant Bomb editors played and streamed, which caught the interest of their big audience. This could have spurred a new fandom, which may have mobilized to tweet to Sony with the #BuildingTheList hashtag initiative thingie, which may have either directly lead DotEmu to make the port, or maybe just gave them some sway in convincing the IP holders to give them the rights to do a port, or maybe have no effect at all (tough to say since I don’t really know what Sony’s #BuildingTheList is, and it could just be a hollow PR move. But even something as simple as people collectively tweeting about something could have big sway in how today’s social media effect company decisions and such). This article has more about the story behind this surprise upcoming port.
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If a disc hits the back of your head, you’ll get knocked down instead of catching the disc. Gotta orient yourself right when catching discs

But Windjammer’s popularity can be shown not just in the fan demand it got, but also in the many games that are clearly inspired by it. Games like Crazy Power Disc Perfect, Gyrodisc: Super League, Power Disc Slam, PowerSpinners, not to mention a couple of fan-made clones made by Giant Bomb community members (you can find the whole list here). The most prominent clone though, and one which was just recently released as a PS+ free game on PS4 (in addition to a PC release), is Disc Jam (I at least respect that most of the clones aren’t trying to hide their influences with fancier names). It uses 3D polygons instead of sprites, and it flips the camera positions vertically. It also allows for 4-players simultaneous play. These changes somewhat follow the evolution of modern Tennis games (the natural equivalent and evolution of Pong, which Windjammers is kinda). I don’t know whether it’s good or not but I would like to try it given that it is PS+ free for March.
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SUPER LOB!

All this to say that it seems 2017 is the year of Windjammers. I’m simply excited that the world has caught Windjammers fever. Heck, Windjammers was even considered as a possible 9th main game at Evo2017 under the player vote donation drive line-up. It didn’t win but it did end up generating more money with more donors than Mortal Kombat X or Super Street  Fighter 2 Turbo, combined. Despite the loss, people are expecting that it will show up as a side-tournament at Evo2017.
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A Super Throw that would ricochet first off the wall and then off the boards and then possible off the wall again? Bet they won’t catch it.

And even if things don’t turn out well with the DotEmu port, and even if none of the inpired-clones live up to it, we will always have Windjammers the way most people have been playing it for over a decade now: with good emulators, and filthy wicked ROMs*
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In this stadium court, the CPU had a bigger lead which got them a bigger red-goal. I obviously did this on purpose.

In conclusion, please play Windjammers. Thank you.
*Given this whole blog, I can’t really be in a “moral high ground” when talking about piracy and using ROMs to play highly expensive games for free. My moral stance on Neo Geo ROMs: You can download them and play them for free, but if there is an available official port on modern systems, whether the port is good or bad, I suggest paying for it. Even if you don’t intend to play that port specifically due to bad emulation or missing features, at least you’d given some of your money to people who own the IP, and you can continue playing the game on your preferred emulator
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Slight Changes To 100DaysOfMEGASHOCK! Posting Order

So you’re wondering why is my most recent post about Windjammers, which is number #49 in the JP Neo Geo MVS chronology list, rather then Crossed Swords, which is the next game game at #19 after Burning Fight? Well, for a few reasons. But lets set some facts first: It’s obvious that I haven’t been really tending to this blog often, partially because I’ve been focusing a little on Pretzel Motion, and because basically any amount of free time I have I either just spend playing Guilty Gear Xrd or trying to keep up with the ever-increasing backlog of old and new games I have, which is being kept at bay because I spend every free moment playing Guilty Gear Xrd. So it might be better if I take any initiative that would make me update 100DaysOfMEGASHOCK! more frequently. And you would probably agree too.

The second reason, one which is specific to Windjammers but might apply to other Neo Geo titles that might get new sequels or ports, is that I feel like it would be better if I write about such titles now, when there’s timely interest in them, than to wait till they get their turn 4 or 5 years away (at best, with my rate, lol). I felt this when I saw the Windjammers announcement trailer at PSX2016. It made me regret not updating this blog frequent enough to get to such a cool title like Windjammers, knowing that the earliest I could get to it is years after.

And so, I decided to soften the chronology rule. For the most part, I’ll be sticking to making posts that follow the JP Neo Geo MVS release chronology, but I think changing it every now and then could help this blog a lot. And don’t worry, you’ll get your fill of Crossed Swords soon :)

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #18 Burning Fight

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Developer: SNK

Publisher: SNK

MVS Release Date: 20/May/1991

AES Release Date: 9/Sept/1991

Longplay Playthrough

The first game of this year’s oft delayed (yet again) 100 Days of MEGASHOCK! post is Burning Fight, the third traditional beat em up released on the Neo Geo MVS (not counting weird experimental beat em ups like The Super Spy). Burning Fight was released on May 20th, 1991, barely a year after the launch of the MVS in April 26, 1990. But despite being the third beat em up, Burning Fight is easily the one that offers the least within the MVS library so far, and is in all earnestness just unremarkable, aside from its almost blatant plagiarism of Capcom’s Final Fight.

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Kind of appropriate that Burning Fight starts next to an arcade. Also that looks like a Beast Busters cabinet.

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Not only arcade centers, but pachinko parlors too. This is certainly not New York.

The controls in Burning Fight work as such:

  • A button Attacks
  • B button jumps, wherein you can do jump attacks
  • C button is a “Middle Attack” but it really is just a long range slower kick attack. Also useful if you have a weapon equipped but don’t want to use it and want to kick instead.
  • Pressing AB does the “Hyper Attack”, a high damage attack that’s also a good “get off me” attack, but just like Final Fight (a phrase you’ll be hearing a lot) and other beat em ups, it consumes a bit of your health bar.
  • You can grab people by approaching them. It’s supposedly useful to break enemy guard but it’s finicky and does little damage.

Like Final Fight, you have 3 hard boiled tough vigilantes to play as:

  • Duke, the blonde dude who looks a lot like cody. His Hyper Attack is a Shoryuken
  • Ryu, the Japanese dude who wears an orange jump suit just like Guy, and yes his Hyper Attack is a Tatsumaki/Tornado Kick.
  • Billy, the “big guy” of the group who is surprisingly NOT that much like Haggar. His Hyper Attack is a very useful shoulder charge.
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Burgers conspicuously left on the ground next to a sewer manhole. Yummy.

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At least this Roasted Pork is on a plate

So you pick a dude, and then you immediately get into the heat of things, walking in streets and beating thugs up. Burning Fight doesn’t even bother with a short intro to set up the story, or cutscenes in between levels, not that stuff like that was ever important but still, seems like an odd but ultimately inconsequential emission.

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That’s a very nicely drawn BMW. Note the skidmarks.

 

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Watch out for Dudes in Forklifts.

Although unlike Final Fight and other beat em ups, the streets and alleys you are wrecking in Burning Fight are clearly based in Japan. From pachinko parlors to conbinis to tiny bars located in  second story buildings accessible by elevators, the setting does feel different than Final Fight’s Metro City, or the cities in Streets Of Rage, most of which look like a cliche’d up crime ridden New York City.

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In a (rare) effort to distinguish itself from Final Fight, Burning Fight has a stage ON TOP of a train…

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….where this chopper will sometimes pass by to try to gun you down. It’s a neat little scene.

And this is more obvious because one of the few novel features of Burning Fight is that every once in a while, you can actually decide to enter one of these shops as they act as optional bonus stages, where you can go in and wreck more people and stuff to get bonus items, like food from questionable sources (trash cans, clothes rack, signboards), or to get money, or even jewelry that probably doesn’t belong to the player character (but lets assume they’re just planning to retrieve them as stolen goods).

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A SUN MARKET “Conbini” (Convinience Store) that you can enter for a bonus stage. Also hi G-Mantle.

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Inside the conbini, you of course have to wreck more shit, even that copy machine.

Still, despite it’s Japanese-location, Burning Fight takes you through the usual spots found in many beat em ups: From the main streets, to an underground shopping center, which leads to a ride on the metro commuter train (and by that I mean literally ON the train), which leads to a downtown segment that leads to a construction site (with an obligatory elevator section), then to a bunch of warehouses, and then finally on a boat.

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It’s not a beat em up if it didn’t have an elevator stage. Nice music here though…

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…and at the top, you’ll fight this boss. He jumps around and slashes with his sword. Also nice music here.

Mechanically, Burning Fight is fine. It’s not the best playing beat em up but it does the job. Throws are somewhat useless though, and barely do good damage. Even Billy, the big guy of the group, doesn’t get any better throws then the other characters. If you want someone with sick throws like Haggar, you won’t find them here. Jump attacks aren’t that great either. They don’t stay out for long, so trying to jump kick the motorcycle dudes is harder than it should be. You have weapon pick-ups, and they are as handy as you’d expect: Knives, guns, long sticks, and of course bottles. They do seem to be timer based, and your guy would dispose of them even if you didn’t use them, so just spam that knife you just got.

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This Hulk-Hogan looking boss has quite an entrance

And that’s pretty much it . So the point of all of this is Burning Fight is a pretty average beat em up in all that entails. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It’s not terribly original, it has a few novel things. And it plays like every beat em up your ever played. Compared to the frantic Sengoku, or the somewhat bizarre Ninja Combat, Burning Fight is forgettable, and just doesn’t have enough to make it stand out of a crowd of hundreds of beat em ups released around this era on all platforms. At least it looks nice. SNK are certainly on their game with the spritework and background art.

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The last stage is set on a boat owned by….

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this dude here, the Final Boss named “Casterora”. And yes, his cane is a gun that shoots. 

This won’t be the first time SNK outright copies ideas from Capcom, but in the future, SNK will realize they need to do more than make shallow imitations of successful Capcom games. And that they need to make their games more distinct. The good news is SNK does.

Cameo Corner

Cameo Corner is the section where we look at cameos of characters from the game we just covered in other games. Of course sequels and crossovers don’t count because that is kinda obvious and doesn’t really count as a “cameo appearance” anyways.

Burning Fight never had a sequel, but Duke Edwards (I guess that’s his last name?) does make appearance in the future, mainly in various King Of Fighter games (which will be the case for A LOT of characters from random SNK-made Neo Geo titles). First, he appears in KOF 2000 as a “Another Striker”, which are characters that are not fully playable but can still be used as strikers. It’s one of the reasons why KOF2000 is such a fun KOF.

As a striker, Duke isn’t so useful. The big problem is that he is so slow. He takes ages after calling him out to reach the opponent and even then he also has to slowly charge for his attack, which is his Shoryuken “Hyper Attack”. Duke can work as a striker with some characters but KOF 2000 has other much more useful strikers. Duke also shows up in KOF 2002 and its remake, KOF 2002 Unlimited Match, in the background.

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Here is Duke, next to King, who was not playable in KOF2002 for some reason. Also Heidern is on tv btw.

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Here is Duke again, apparently manning the concession stand in the Neo Geo World theme park. Quite a career change from uh…cop? special criminal investigation force? roaming marauder? who knows.

Finally, Duke appears in KOF 94 Re-bout, the remake of KOF94 made for the 10th anniversary. The remake added quasi-redrawn sprites, but with an “HD” blurry filter that muddies things up and removes the crispiness of SNK’s original sprites. It also had not so great looking 3D backgrounds. KOF94 Re-bout ended up being a weird curiosity, and is probably not a coveted game that gets played often compared to the remakes of KOF98 and KOF2002, but I suppose it did begat those other two anyways, so maybe it should get some credit.

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If you can sway your eyes from these not so good looking sprites, you can see a tiny Duke hanging out there on the right.

Sadly (or not), none of the other characters in Burning Fight get to reappear in future SNK games. Oh well.

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #17 Alpha Mission II/ASO II: Last Guardian

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In this long-delayed edition of 100 Days of MEGASHOCK!, we’ll be looking at Alpha Mission 2 (known as ASO II: Last Guardian in Japan). Similar to Baseball Stars, Alpha Mission 2 is a Neo Geo sequel to an SNK title made prior to the Neo Geo’s debut. The original Alpha Mission was developed for arcades in 1985 and then ported to the famicom/NES. But unlike Baseball Stars, the Alpha Mission series never progressed past this second entry. Incidentally, skimming the Neo Geo release list shows that all subsequent SNK-developed games will be original Neo Geo stuff (although there will be plenty of callbacks and references to SNK’s pre-Neo Geo library of games).

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Alpha Mission 2 is a vertical scrolling shooter, similar to Ghost Pilots, which we looked at in post #14. But where Ghost Pilots took a more grounded fake-historical approach, with planes being inspired by real-world World War 1 and 2 era planes, Alpha Mission takes a more scifi approach, so lots of flying in space, shooting robot aliens, and having boss fights with huge spaceship on different planets.

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In Alpha Mission 2, you have 2 types of shots: Lasers that destroy flying targets, and air-to-surface missiles that destroy ground targets. It’s works a lot like Xevious, and you can assign lasers and missiles to shoot simultaneously with just the ‘A’ button, or have them separately assigned to ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively. Unlike most shooters, There are no bombs that decimate enemies and clear-up bullets from the screen. Instead, you can select one of several types of “Armors” with the ‘C’ button, wherein the ship will temporarily transform into a much stronger one equipped with more powerful weapons and a better armor that can take multiple hits. This is the signature feature of the Alpha Mission series.

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It’s generally a good idea to activate armor at boss fights, like so. Note the energy bar at the left, which now depletes with each hit.

However, you don’t come upon these Armor upgrades so easily. Alpha Mission 2 requires you to collect each armor piece by piece, and there are 11 armor types, such as HOME (as in homing), FIRE, SIDE, BUBBLE etc. In order to build-up one armor type you are required to collect 3 pieces of the same armor type CONSECUTIVELY. Collecting any other armor type would reset it, so then you have to start over again. However, you can simply buy complete armor sets at the end of each level, granted that you have enough ‘G’ currency for it.

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This boss reminds me of the second boss of Ikaruga, which has a similar moving shaft thing that conceals a weakpoint while you keep getting shot at from the side.

And there are more items to collect in Alpha Mission 2. Collecting items like speed (with an ‘S’ item), or lasers (with ‘L’), or missile (with ‘M’) will upgrade that ship attribute. In addition, some levels have warp items that warp you a few screens ahead in a stage. Other items warp you BACK a few screens. Then there are items that power you down, either by depleting the Armor energy, or by decreasing your stock ship attributes.

This stage looks pretty cool.

Stage 4 has a cool background

And all these upgrades you gathered will disappear as soon as you die, which is one reason why I’m not totally into Alpha Mission 2. I think it’s somewhat of a rule in video games that if a game has so many upgrades, whether it’s a shooter or RPG or metroidvania or even career-mode in a racing game, then the initial stock attributes of the player ship/character/car are made so middling in order to allow some room to grow. Sometimes good game designers try to make that initial portion of the game feel great, or at least reduce that portion as much as possible so that you’re already getting a number of upgrades so early into the game. But Alpha Mission 2 does neither to alleviate that. I realize that Gradius and other shooters with upgrades mechanic do the same thing, but they’re more streamlined and focused. In Gradius for example, the energy-pellets can be accumulated to upgrade any stat of the ship, whether it’s speed or adding sideweapons or whatever. Fantasy Zone uses currency that you collect and then spend at shops floating around in any level. In TwinBee, shooting at clouds reveal these bells. And Shooting those bells makes them change color and thus which power-up you get. Alpha Mission 2 sorta takes all these upgrade-type ideas and smooshes them together without much rhyme or reason, without making them gel together. It’s like living in an economy that has 2 or more currencies for mutually exclusive goods and services. A more uniform upgrade method would have helped make Alpha Mission 2 a better game.

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I mean it could be a symptom of me sucking at scrolling-shooters, but I think for the most part I’m playing the game trying to acquire power-up (or better yet, acquiring the RIGHT power-up items while actively trying to avoid others) more so than trying to play the level itself, because the stock-ship simply isn’t fun at all to play. It’s slow and weak. Fighting bosses with the stock-ship is an unfun chore that lasts way too long.

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You can buy armor upgrades at the end of each level. I just can’t seem to get enough ‘Gs’ to get the good armor types.

Then there’s the issue with lasers and missiles. As I mentioned before, each of these weapons attack a certain type of target, and what gets killed by one usually doesn’t get damaged by the other. Lasers go faster and further, and they can be shot more frequently. So they’re the easier weapon to handle than the slower missiles, which require more deliberate placement. And that’s fine because for the most part, the more immediate threats come from flying targets as most of the grounded targets shoot slow projectiles that are easy to dodge, or they contain one of the various pick-ups to upgrade your ship.

But then you reach a boss. And many of the bosses can only be damaged by missiles (or at least have major parts/final forms that are only vulnerable to missiles) and it’s just an excruciating bore to fight, especially compounded with the resetting-upgrades issue. A big offender is the Boss of Area 5:-

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The only way you can damage this boss is by missiles, which is fine…

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…until it submerges part of itself. But then you say “look, parts of it are still in the open”. And you are correct. However…

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It can submerge itself COMPLETELY. Becoming fully invulnerable. All I can do is wait till it emerges again. Ugh so infuriating.

That boss fight took around 5 minutes exclusively, which is pretty long for a shooter. I guess what I want to say is some of the boss fights in Alpha Mission 2 aren’t great.

Still, I feel like Alpha Mission 2’s problems aren’t necessarily the ideas it has. It’s just that they’re not balanced well. And for the most part, Alpha Mission 2 is a decent shooter with a ok graphics . It looks more like an enhanced 8-bit shooter than a true 16-bit shooter, with tiny ships and lots of tiny enemies and targets on screen. Only the bosses and some of the backgrounds in the game look large, with impressive animations. It more resembles the likes of Star Soldier or Zanac but if they got an enhanced 16-bit port. And considering that the first Alpha Mission was exactly that sort of mid-80s 8-bit shooter, it’s not surprising that its sequel maintains that look.

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The whole of area 2 is a fight against this huge thing.

And Alpha Mission 2 still has its moments. I like how Stage 2 is all a fight against a massive multiscreen mothership, where you’re tasked to destroy different parts of it, and then to enter the ship itself during the second half of the stage to permanently destroy it from the inside. Stage 4 has some nice backgrounds. And I like the fight against the final huge-terminator-looking boss. Plus I think Armors are a pretty cool alternative to your regular shooter-bombs. And there’s plenty of Armor types that you’ll probably not be able to try them all in one or two playthroughs.

ASO-00027

The final boss looks cool. Oddly enough it’s pretty easy compared to other bosses in the game.

It’s ironic to compare Alpha Mission 2 to Ghost Pilots. Ghost Pilots issues were that it was a very uninspired vertical shooter with not a lot of neat new ideas or features. But in being so, it also didn’t have anything objectionable. Alpha Mission 2 on the other hand incorporates a few novel ideas (some taken from other games, like Xevious as I mentioned). It has all these upgrades and features and shops and warps. But it does not balance them well. Half the time, you’re focused on which pick-ups you wanna get & which you wanna avoid. And then you die and end up fighting a boss who takes about 5 minutes to die strictly because you only have your puny stock missiles that barely chip away damage. With some balancing Alpha Mission 2 could have been great. Sadly, the series never got the chance to better itself with a 3rd installment. But it’s ok, there’s plenty of better shooters on the Neo Geo, which we’ll soon be looking into (that is, if I can put these posts out more frequently, haha).

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #16 Blue’s Journey/Raguy

Blue's Journey

On today’s long-delayed 100 Days Of MEGASHOCK! we’ll be looking at another ADK platformer, Blue’s Journey (or Raguy as it was called in Japan). Blue’s Journey is a cutsey colorful platformer that’s more in the vein of Alex Kidd or the early Wonder Boy games than a Super Mario Bros. You play as Blue, a tiny insect-man superhero (kind of like Kamen Rider). Blue must save the land of Raguy from an evil emperor who wants destroy it via pollution (this environmentally-conscious plot is a lot like Sonic, though this predates the first Sonic by a few months). Blue’s friend, Green (naturally), can join in the adventure if you play in 2-player co-op mode, which is not a common feature in platformers.

co-op

In Co-Op, one plays as Blue & the other is Green.

In Blue’s Journey, you attack using the A button. Your default weapon is a leaf which stuns enemies, allowing you to then pick them up and throw them at other enemies ala-Super Mario Bros 2. But more so, you can actually stun multiple enemies, run at them to stack them all up, and throw a huge wall made of poor creatures at your foes (which is pretty cool).

This never gets old.

Stacking enemies never gets old.

Don't fret! Blue's not dead yet as he can still move about the mud by hoping on it.

Don’t fret! Blue’s not dead yet as he can still move about the mud by hoping on it.

More importantly, the main gimmick of Blue’s Journey is that you can shrink at will using the C button to access small hidden areas. Not only that, shrinking makes Blue run faster, making him jump further, and also allows Blue to jump onto and ride enemies without stunning them (since jumping on enemies when normal sized would stun them). So for example you could shrink, jump onto a flying enemy, ride them a bit and then jump to a high hidden area that would be normally inaccessible. The catch is that while shrunken down, you cannot attack, so you become much more vulnerable. Thus, it’s imperative for the player to learns when it’s best to shrink down and when to return to their normal size to fight off threats.

Places like these are only accessable when shrunken down

Places like these are only accessible when shrunken down

But there’s more than jumping around and smacking enemies in Blue’s Journey. Every now and then, a house will appear. Inside, you can talk to residents about different subjects (in goofy broken English): They may offer you items to buy. They may ask you some really weird questions, or even offer you to warp ahead a few levels into the game for a few flowers (which are the in-game currency you collect). You may even get a few sidequests. One example is  a guy who has lost his axe and needs it to cut down a tree, which opens up a secret area with some items (turns out the axe is just one screen over to the left). Another quest is there’s a princess who is frozen solid, and you need to have gotten the torch beforehand in order to thaw the ice to save her. And I believe she should give you some power-up but I’m not sure what exactly.

One of the first houses in the game...

One of the first houses in the game…

Inside is this guy, will sell you boats made out of rather not studry material.

Inside is this guy, will sell you boats made out of rather not so sturdy material.

You can also find shops that sell you stuff like speed-boosts and whatnot, nothing too useful as the leaf weapon you start with is pretty handy as is. Or you can pick up other weapons like bombs (quite handy against bosses), or boomerangs (which are near useless). You can also upgrade the weapon if you pick it up again, even the default leaf as the fully upgraded leaf is mighty strong.

Before fighting some of the bosses, they may ask some silly questions like this...

Before fighting some of the bosses, they may ask some silly questions like this…

If you did answer "I'll go home", you get this fake ending. But then you come to your senses and get back to fighting the boss. Pretty funny.

If you did answer “I’ll go home”, you get this fake ending. But then you come to your senses and get back to fighting the boss. Pretty funny.

A playthrough will take you across a total of 4 worlds, each with 3 levels and a 4th mini-level with a boss. After beating the first world, a map screen comes up and you can choose one of 2 worlds to go to next. And that happens again once you beat the next world, so there’s really a total of 6 worlds in the game, and you need at least 2 playthroughs to see them all.

Fire level

Fire level…

And a water level. The holy trinity of platformer levels.

…and a water level.

And the levels are your usual set found in other platformer. There’s a green forest levels, volcano levels, ice levels, toy levels, industrial machinery levels etc. They all do a good job of showing that Blue and his gang are all miniscule sized, as you see him run next to giant flowers or climb large lego blocks, or run on top of huge computer chips and such.

Some web pun here

*insert some stupid web pun here that I can’t think of right now

Another platformer convention: Conveyer belts.

Another platformer convention: Conveyer belts and saw blades.

I think Blue may just take things too literally. Or he's secretly a coward.

I think Blue may just take things too literally. Or he’s secretly a coward.

Overall, I enjoyed Blue’s Journey. It’s a much more polished effort than Magician Lord, one that tried to be a little bit more inventive. It was also much easier than Magician Lord (no annoying frogs that take 8-hits). Plus I think not a lot of games do the whole shrinking mechanism, and this is somewhat thematically consistent in how tiny Blue and his friends seem to be in their world. Blue’s Journey also has some decent replay value, with all the optional worlds and the hidden areas that one may miss the first time, in addition to the odd things you’ll see if you answer the villager questions differently. It’s safe to say you won’t be seeing everything in Blue’s Journey on your first playthrough, or possibly second. Plus there’s a genuinely great sense of humor about the whole game, especially with the various dialogues you read. Also a really nice soundtrack too.

Believe it or not, this guy is the final boss. Not much too him, huh.

Believe it or not, this guy is the final boss. Not much too him, huh.

Once you beat his scrawny butt, he starts begging for forgiveness...

Once you beat his scrawny butt, he starts begging for forgiveness…

...AND I ANSWERED "NO" MUHAHAHA!!!

…AND I ANSWERED “NO”. DIE!!!! MUHAHAHA!!!!!!!

And yet, I still slightly prefer Magician Lord over it. I think it’s because of the wilder soundtrack, tougher difficulty, the and the darker artstyle (and of course GAL AGIESE). Still, this is a great effort by ADK, certainly much better than Ninja Combat at least.

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #15 King Of The Monsters

kingofthemonsterscover

Japanese “Kaiju” Monster movies were big in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and is in a resurgence of sorts with Pacific Rim and the new Godzilla. It started with the American King Kong movie all the way back in 1933, which sort of got Japanese adaptations with Wasei Kingu Kongu and King Kong Appears in Edo. But it was the first Godzilla movie that really kicked off the genre and established Godzilla as a global icon and a long running franchise (with Gamera being one of the bigger competitors). The first Godzilla (and Gamera) movie was a more serious affair. But they soon introduced a host of other monsters for Godzilla to fight against. And the series became campier and less serious, more a reason to watch men in elaborate monster suits wrestling each other and blowing up miniature buildings.

In the far far flung future of 1996...

In the far far flung future of 1996…

 

SNK capitalized on the popularity of both Godzilla and pro wrestling with King Of The Monsters (King Of The Monsters, incidentally, being one nickname for Godzilla). It is basically a wrestling game but with giant monsters instead of wrestlers, and a whole city district instead of a ring. You pound on other monsters till their health is low enough for you to pin them down for a count of 3 (Why do monsters care if they were pinned down? Who is there counting to 3? No one knows). You can grapple and do a host of wrestling moves. You can even do an Irish whip and your opponent would run till the end of the “ring” and be whipped back, thanks to the bouncy electromagnetic force-field at the sides that act pretty much like the bouncy ropes of a wrestling ring.

Character select screen.

Character select screen.

So who are the 6 monsters? They are:-

–          Geon, the Godzilla-looking dinosaur

–          Woo, the King Kong-like giant ape

–          Poison Ghost, a smog monster type

–          Beetle Mania, a giant beetle

–          Rocky, a monster composed of large rocks (naturally)

–          Finally, Astro Guy, a Ultraman-like giant superhero guy (though I’m not sure how much of a hero he really is)

I chose to play as Beetle Mania because Beetle Mania looks the least threatening out of all the monsters. And because it’s a funny reference.

That bridge is going down.

That bridge is going down.

Once you start King Of The Monsters, you can choose either to play 1 player against the computer, 2 players versus mode, or 2 player co-op mode (fighting 2 other computer controlled monsters for exciting 2 vs 2 matches). A playthrough of the game will take you across 12 stages spread across Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kobe, and Okayama. In each stage, you’ll be fighting while getting bombarded by army Tanks and planes while also getting swarmed by tiny cars and trains. But you could pick any of these vehicles and use them as throwing weapons, which is very handy.

Wiped Clean

You can throw planes. But wow this city’s just wiped clean.

The combat in King Of The Monsters is fairly intricate. [A] punches, [B] kicks. Three hits of any would usually knockdown. Thus, it’s important to learn to run away when you need to with [C] or by double tapping  left or right (wherein you could run back and clobber them with a running attack). Or you could jump out of harm with [A]+[B] (the CPU always tends to jump out of 3 hit combos).  Holding [A]+[B] would charge up a long range projectile attack.

You always need big, beautiful Pagodas to destroy.

Gotta have big, beautiful Pagodas to destroy.

As a wrestling game, grappling forms an important part of the combat. Moving to the other monster initiates a grapple. And pressing either [A] or [B] with different directions does different character-specific wrestling moves (This FAQ lists all the command throws. Although some of the buttons are switched it seems). You can also do throw-reversals (though I’m not sure how). Doing the more damaging throws would yield a power-up item, and also a dizzied opponent open for more attacks (I usually go for a back throw in this case). Collecting the power-up item fills a bar that, once filled, will “upgrade” the player, giving them a new color, slightly faster movement,  and a bigger projectile attack.  Filling that bar again would unlock the final form. Again, they have an even slightly faster movement and an even bigger projectile attack. But most importantly, the final form unlocks a special throw, done with [A]+[B], that does a lot of damage.

Nice of the Ferris Wheel runners to keep the wheel running. Must be a great view of the match.

Nice of the Ferris Wheel runners to keep the wheel running. Must be a great view of the match.

When your opponent is down, you can pin them with [A], pick them up for a throw with [B], or do a downed attack with [C]. But you can’t mine hits by constantly throwing them over and over as there’s a set amount of times you can pick an opponent up for a throw, or else they’d just stand up straight.

Fighting all summer and winter.

Fighting all summer and winter.

But of course, you don’t need to know any of these specific commands to get through King Of The Monster. I managed to mash my way through all 12 stages. I only learned about most of these mechanics after I beat the game & tried a bit of 2 player practice.

Seems like there's something written on that building.

Seems like there’s something written on that building. “Neo Geo”? What’s a “Neo Geo”?

There are some issues with King Of The Monsters mechanics. When a player moves the character to contact the other monster for a grapple, the game randomly decides who should get the upper hand. The one with the upper-hand gets to throw, and the other character can only hope to be able to do a throw-reversal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except that I don’t know how to do throw-reversals and seemingly, no one on the internet knows either. So when odds are against you, you just have to accept it and take the hit. This discourages from trying to grapple the other character since there’s an equal chance that you will get thrown. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Destraction?

Destraction?

There’s also the issue with lifebars. Usually with wrestling games, the lifebar serves as a measure of “how much button-mashing does a pinned player need to do to get out of a pin-down”. The less life they have, the more mashing they need to do, up to a certain limit where no conceivable level of mashing could save a player from a pin-down. Usually, that extent is reached when their lifebar is fully depleted or even a little bit beyond that . Some games have a hidden 20-or-so percent of life hidden beyond what’s displayed just to add a bit of exciting comebacks and suspense to the match. King Of The Monsters does have this “extra life” in, but it seems like there’s an extra %100, %200 of life after it’s depleted, maybe even more, especially in the later levels. This drags out matches for far too long. And with health being low, both players end up spending their time down on the ground for the latter part of a match. And you can be sure that the CPU will take every single chance it has to pin you down.

Some nice water effects here.

Some neat water effects here.

But all of this doesn’t deter from what is a really fun game with a novel idea, especially in coop or versus multiplayer. There’s inarguable appeal to playing as funny looking giant monsters body-slamming other funny looking monsters all while destroying tall buildings and getting bombarded by tiny fighter planes, all while a vaguely English-sounding guy narrates the scene and the hopelessness of it all. Yes, there were a few of “Kaiju” games before King Of The Monsters. But the few Godzilla games weren’t all that great. And I guess Midway’s Rampage has its fans. But Rampage was more “Monsters vs tiny people and buildings” rather than “Monster vs Monster” type of action. King Of The Monsters didn’t set any precedent. But still remains a fairly new idea that was well done.

More monster fighting. Kinda getting tired of these samey-looking screenshots.

More monster fighting. Kinda getting tired of these samey-looking screenshots.

The precedent that King Of The Monsters did set, however, was that it was the first of several Neo Geo games that got ported to the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive. These ports were handled by Takara, who would also work on Game Boy ports of Neo Geo titles later in the ’90s. The ports took out 2 characters, probably for memory-saving reason.  The missing characters were Woo (The King Kong lookalike, probably because he was a King Kong-lookalike and Takara didn’t want to get sued by Universal, just like how Universal Sued Nintendo) and Poison Ghost (the smog-monster, because…look at it).

I almost forgot to put a picture with Rocky. So here's Rocky.

I almost forgot to put a picture with Rocky. So here’s Rocky.

SNK did make a sequel, King Of The Monsters 2: The Next Thing (No, not “The Next BIG Thing”. Just “The Next Thing”, which is true in a sense). The sequel expanded the game to be a beat em up, with plenty of boss fights that resemble the first game’s wrestling matches thrown in. It also dropped (actually, killed off if the into is to be believed) Beetle Mania, Rocky, and Poison Ghost (again), keeping only Geon and Astro Guy intact, while Woo was turned into a robot in the spirit of Mecha-Godzilla and Mecha King Ghidorah, becoming Cyber-Woo. Cyber-Woo did join Neo Geo Battle Coliseum as a playable character (though a much smaller version). And there is a stage in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum that is an ode to King of the Monsters, depicting Cyber-Woo fighting a skeletal version of Geon.

Editor’s Note: No Screen Gallery this time because honestly, there’s not much else new to be shown in the other screenshots. It’s just more monsters wrestling. Hope you don’t mind.

100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #14 Sengoku

sengoku

Sengoku is the second beat em up on the Neo Geo, after Ninja Combat. But unlike Ninja Combat (which was by ADK), Sengoku was internally developed by SNK. According to the intro, 400 years ago, a warlord was defeated by 2 samurais. But just before he died, he promised to return in 400 years to bring death and destruction to the land. And 400 years pass. And lo and behold, the warlord actually kept his promise, resurrecting, along with his magical floating mansion and massive undead army, to bring the apocalypse to modern times. Interesting tidbit: The intro is different between the MVS & AES versions of the game. The MVS intro, while more impressive looking, has a rather fast text scroll that is hard to read. The AES version slows down the text scroll. But the intro is just a series of static screens, which is less impressive. But back to the game itself.

Two Crude Dudes!

Two Crude Dudes!

So who will save this world from the mad man warlord in his floating, spinning magic mansion? Two dudes. Player one is a Mad Max or Kenshiro looking guy, complete with leather jacket and metal shoulder pads, but with a brighter attire to give him a bit of legitimacy/avoid lawsuits. Player two is a shirtless cowboy. The two of them will have to get to the mad man warlord by punching hundreds and hundreds of ghost ninjas, undead samurais, demons, Kappas, evil spirits, and a host of other mythical Japanese monsters under the warlord’s command.

Buildings crumpled, cities levels, but somehow, this billboard is nigh intact.

Buildings crumpled, cities levels, but somehow this billboard is nigh intact.

Like other contemporary beat-em-ups/belt-scrollers/brawlers (pick your favorite term), you walk to the right and punch people, monsters, demons, and other such things. [A] button attacks, and [B] jumps. But the main gimmick of Sengoku is that, on your journey you will befriend three different “warrior spirits” who will help you out: A Wolf, a Ninja, and a Samurai. And you can “tag-in” any of these spirits with the [C] button. But each of the 3 spirits has their own 60-second timer that counts down when they’re “tagged in”. And once the timer reaches 0, they’re out, lost for good. And you can’t get them back (not even after dying. Death actually doesn’t take away your spirit friends if you have them along when you die). That is, unless you find another one of the lost spirits on your way, which is pretty rare. So it’s very important that you tag them out before they’re timer runs out to have them recharge their timer (although, if you’re like me, you’ll probably die & use all your lives pretty quickly before the timer runs out, wherein you’ll continue and then have all your spirits fully charged).

Here's where you get the wolf. Which oddly has the same wolf-howl sound sample as Galford's Poppy.

Here’s where you get the wolf. Which oddly has the same wolf-howl sound sample as Galford’s Poppy. Also look at that army!

Many of these battles won’t even be taking place in the earthly domain. See, every so often, your player gets transported instantly. Sometimes to the heavens, sometimes seemingly back in time, or just to the lower city levels, in the subways and severs. It’s a very abrupt, very interruptive sequence. And it’s Sengoku’s other big gimmick that’s also really weird. In fact, in stage 1, mere seconds after starting the game and walking for a few feet, you will suddenly be transported to the heavens to fight a horde of monsters. It’s a hectic kind of pace, ensuring that you’re not fighting in the same locale for too long. It’s an obvious gimmick to reduce the apparent tedium that a lot of beat em ups can have by “mixing it up”. And honestly it works, even if you are still fighting the same types of enemies wherever you are. And yet even within the same plane, Sengoku tries to mix it up by having the same enemies appear on screen in new ways. Sometimes, they just walk in from off-screen, or come by running from the background (with lots of sprite scaling. This IS an early-era Neo Geo game, so expect plenty of ridiculous sprite-scaling). Other times they appear as weird ghosts that transform into the usual set of enemies you fight. It doesn’t really have an effect on how you play the game, just a variety of fancy wrappers for the same types of sandwiches.

I kind of want to listen to Sewer Surfin all the sudden.

I kind of want to listen to Sewer Surfin all of a sudden.

But is the meat of Sengoku good (Apologies for the heavy handed metaphor)? Past all the gimmicky visual tricks & the fancy spirit-tagging mechanic, is the raw punching & kicking good?

Ninja's throwing shurikin, naturally

Ninja is throwing shurikin, naturally

Well, not really. For one, regular dude moves quite slowly. But more importantly, there’s no “combo lock” like you have in Final Fight or other beat em ups. When an enemy is punched, they go into a “getting hit” animation frame & are pushed back a little. And during the “getting hit” frame, all subsequent attacks won’t register until the enemy is back into normal state. So it feels flimsy hitting attack 4 times & only having attacks #1 & #3 register as hits. This is unlike Final Fight, where once the first attack lands, the subsequent attacks initiate a combo that ends with a final attack that knocks down the enemy. Also, there aren’t a lot of moves you can do. There’re no throws, only 1 jump attack, and no running at all. Although you can break enemy sword with your bare hands but I’m not sure how to trigger this move. But it’s useful and looks pretty cool.

This midboss shoots tiny versions of itself out of that big sack.

This midboss shoots tiny versions of itself out of that big sack. Weird.

The spirits you can tag with are also of mixed usefulness. The wolf is nearly useless, with very short range attacks. The Ninja is basically a faster version of regular dude (that’s because instead of walking, the Ninja does acrobatic ninja flips, as a Ninja should). The Samurai is the most effective of them all, as the samurai’s sword has great reach and does great damage.

Ninja is shooting this thing. Naturally???

Ninja is shooting this thing. Naturally???

But even if the wolf and the Ninja are not that much more useful than regular dude, it’s still a good idea to switch to them whenever you get a power-up. Defeating some enemies would yield different colored orbs. which give you power-ups, like giving regular dude a sword, or 2 swords, or 1 BIG sword, or can make him shoot stuff. But if one of the spirits gets a powerup (or powered up regular dude is switched up to any of these spirits), they will shoot a plethora of crazy looking projectiles too. So it’s a smart idea to change to one of the spirits when powered up (even the nearly useless wolf gets some much needed firepower).

SNK doing more of their usual referential stuff.

SNK doing more of their usual referential stuff.

So despite not having a strong basis in terms of bare-handed combat, there’s quite a lot of switching between the 4 characters. And optimally, you won’t be using regular dude for long stretches if you’re playing well. And yet, thanks to some smart enemy designs, there are some instances where you’re better off using regular guy against some enemies. Sword wielding enemies can reflect projectiles, so if you were using a powered up spirit that’s shooting stuff, your attacks would be reflected back. Therefore it’s better in this case to switch back to regular dude to use his sword-breaking move (which would be much more useful if I knew how to do it). Or you can clash your sword with an enemy sword and presumably mash in order to win (unless it’s done like in the first Samurai Shodown, then you really shouldn’t bother with the wasted effort).

Final boss encounter is some crazy high-flying sword fight that...

Final boss encounter is some crazy high-flying sword fight…

...and this is the warlord's final form.

…and this is the warlord’s final form.

This dependency on tagging between characters while also managing each spirits “cool down” period, factoring in whether you have a power up or not, and who are the enemy-types you’re currently fighting, all of this does build a simple strategy element on top of an otherwise pretty simplistic brawling system, a system which I believe could not sustain a whole interesting game on itself. And the pretty-looking, very imaginative stages you go through, especially with the whole warping around thing, is a clever gimmick that nullifies the “brawler tedium” that happens in similar games. Add to that some really cool looking bosses (mostly the minibosses. The real bosses are somewhat less impressive oddly), and a very climactic final boss encounter, and Sengoku ends up being a very good, smartly designed brawler that does enough to differentiates itself from the competition. And it seems SNK did a good enough job with Sengoku to spawn 2 other sequels, Sengoku 2 in 1994, and a Noise Factory-made Sengoku3/Sengoku 2001 in, well, 2001.