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Great Battle Cyber

Trying to parse out which titles in the long line of super robot and sentai games that Bandai has put out are actually good is harder than you can possibly imagine. There are innumerable Gundam, Kamen Rider, and Ultraman games under strange names that I dare you to try and figure out. The Compati Hero series is a crossover between these three brands and on paper it should be awesome. However the reality is the games did not really find their stride until they hit the SNES. The Great Battle Cyber is evidence of these growing pains; for every element it gets right it also completely fumbles another. Unfortunately it has serious flaws that ruin what could have been a truly great game.

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What immediately stands out are the production values. The backgrounds are expertly drawn and though they repeat a bit towards the end are still fantastic. Great Battle Cyber has a unique look, not quite SD but not full sized characters either. The sprites are larger than in most NES titles and incredibly detailed but what is more impressive is the animation. The protagonists possess a nice range of extremely well animated attacks to a degree not common on the platform. It shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise as developer Arc System Works are extremely talented as evidenced by their work with the Blaz Blue and Guilty Gear series.   This shows that that talent was always there.

The playable roster consists of Kamen Rider Black, Victory Gundam, and Ultraman Taro. The differences between each character aren’t as pronounced as you would think: Kamen Rider actually has the longest reach despite fighting with his bare hands. The Victory Gundam’s sword attacks in an arc which allows it to deflect airborne attacks and hit flying enemies from the ground. Ultraman…..you know what there’s nothing unique about him. To some extent he occupies a middle ground between the others but that leaves little reason to ever use him.

Combat is probably the game’s greatest asset. All battles in the game are one on one affairs involving a nice variety of opponents. Each character is equipped with a small arsenal of attacks and the back and forth nature of deflecting attacks and trying to find an opening is what keeps it interesting for the length of the game. Once you’ve defeated a particular enemy it becomes easy once you encounter them again however the game introduces new opponents drawn from all three respective universes right up to its conclusion. There are very few power-ups unfortunately; aside from various health items and extra lives the only weapon you’ll acquire infrequently is a gun that will allow you to breeze through fights. Abuse the hell out of it!

As much as I like combat the game’s controls are an issue. The largest problem is the delay between pressing a button and the game responding. Since some of the animation cycles are so long along with the delay you can’t make quick movements which results in cheap hits. Your movements are a slippery and imprecise which absolutely ruins the game when it comes to platforming. Where combat seems to take precedence early on halfway through the game platforming becomes the focus and it flat out barely works. By stage 7 the game ask a level of precision from you that the controls simply cannot deliver. Hopping from one hand rail to the next requires you to slap the jump button well in advance to hope that it will execute in time. Landing on a falling series of blocks and having to perform a rolling dash immediately after is just….no. I can honestly say that the second half of Great Battle Cyber is some of the most frustrating times I’ve ever spent with a game.

Because of the control issues what would have been a moderately challenging game is a Castlevania level nightmare. Once you have learned each enemy’s attack pattern running through a gauntlet of bad guys isn’t so hard even with the scarcity of health pickups. But anything to do with the jump button undermines that. Unlimited continues and passwords alleviate this somewhat but considering the game is 15 stages long you’ll feel frustration more than elation. The sad thing is there is some awesome level design toward the end of the game but I seriously doubt most will have the patience and dedication to ever reach that point.

I’m torn on this one. I like certain aspects of the game however the heavier emphasis on platforming in the second half almost completely ruins it. I wish I could say that those that stick with it will find some measure of reward but in truth it gets even more frustrating the deeper you progress. There are some good ideas in here but they are buried under shoddy execution.

6-out-of-101

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Kidou Butoden G-Gundam

I have mixed feelings about the various Mobile Suit Gundam series but the one thing I can say for sure is that I hate Gundam Seed. And that I kind of like G-Gundam. G-Gundam absolutely embraces its stupidity and whether I actually like it or not I can at least respect that. The entire premise behind this particular edition of the series was definitely inspired by the fighting game craze (namely Street Fighter) so of course a game would accompany it. Yet despite its foundations Kidou Butoden G-Gundam is only a slightly above average fighting game and one that cannot hold your attention for long. This should have turned out so much better.

In the world of G-Gundam there is no war. Instead a tournament is held every four years called the Gundam Fight in which each nation sends there representative Gundam to compete for sovereignty over all countries until the next tournament. Clearly this setup was inspired by a certain series about fighting in the streets and plays out just like an animated version of that game, complete with over the top attacks and ridiculously stereotyped mechs from each country.

The very concept of G-Gundam is practically made for a fighting game so the fact that it turned out so tepid is disappointing. Part of what makes this so average isn’t that it borrows so much from Street Fighter but that it doesn’t execute on those elements as well. From its imprecise recognition of button inputs to its small roster this really should have turned out better. What content is present is decent but you’ll quickly end up going back to far superior fighting games in short order.

The roster is small but manages to include the most of the popular characters from the show. The characters are mostly substitutes for your favorite Street Fighter personalities, with the Dragon Gundam functioning as your Dhalsim stand-in and the Bolt Gundam playing like a slightly faster Zangief. You’ll be surprised to learn that main hero Domon does not in fact play like Ryu. However! The game has that niche covered with God Gundam, his alternate which fulfills that role. With that in mind Gundam Maxter and the Master Gundam are the Ken to its Ryu. The rest of the cast are more unique with the fast moving and awesome Gundam Spiegel being my favorite. I just wish there were more of them.

The roster is my largest issue with the game. There’s no getting around the fact that nearly all of the Mobile Suits representing the various countries are offensive and borderline racist, taking numerous stereotypes to the extreme. Gundam Maxter of the US is an amalgamation of various sports equipment and that’s a tame example, don’t get me started on the Tequila and Zebra Gundam. That being said they would have made excellent fodder for an expanded roster. Unfortunately the game has a paltry list of 10 with 4 of those being clones of each other. I realize clones save time and resources but this is a bit extreme. Christ there were well over 50 Gundams in the show they could have tossed in, how cheap can you be?

Despite the surface similarities to Capcom’s classic the fighting engine here doesn’t quite come together. Hit detection is all over the place with moves that clearly should not connect registering a hit while others have insane priority. Because your moves don’t flow together combos are nearly non-existent; you’ll be lucky to pull off a two-in-one at most. Many of the special moves look pretty cool but suffer from such short range that they are next to useless. The timing of your button inputs has to be near perfect for certain special moves to execute as well. Because of all these flaws the game plays more like a brawler which is ultimately unsatisfying.

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In terms of presentation the game is in line with other similar games released in 1994. The Mobile Suits are larger than your average fighting game sprite with some decent animation. The show produced all manner of flashy special moves for each mech that have been faithfully recreated here. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed and go through a day time cycle with each round. Had the game been released a year before it would have been more impressive; by late 1994 the stellar ports of Super Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat 2 were on the market, making this less notable in comparison.

Overall G-Gundam is decent for what it is but the fact that there isn’t as much content and that the SNES has so many better fighting games makes it a less than attractive proposition. The broken fighting engine means there isn’t much depth to the game and you’ll be done with it in just a few hours, if that. There are far too many better options to bother.

6-out-of-10-1

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Rocketeer

I remember the insane marketing blitz surrounding the Rocketeer. From toys, fast food tie-ins, to commercials Disney went all out in a bid to convince you that this was the next big thing. I specifically remember the art deco movie poster and thinking this guy looked incredibly cool. Mind you I was 11 and didn’t know a thing about art deco but didn’t need to; that poster just grabbed you. In the end it was all for naught as the movie failed at the box office but we did get a few games out of it. This NES tie-in follows the film’s plot faithfully but aside from that there is little that helps the game stand out. It’s a decent game overall but is lost in the sea of platformers already available.

The film’s iconic rocket pack is present in the game but disappointingly it isn’t as crucial a game mechanic as you would expect. There are only a few sections where it is necessary for progress and they never progress beyond flying over a wall or hitting a boss’s weak point. In fact a good portion of the time you can’t use it as the game won’t provide any fuel! Technically you can use it to fly over a sizable chunk of the levels but the designers were aware of this and either sandwich you in tight areas or have flying enemies that are tough to kill and only appear when you fly too high.

Without flight you are left with a pretty generic platformer. You have a decent assortment of weapon that all use varying amounts of ammo. The game does a good job of providing ammo but it can run out fast so you’ll more than likely stick to the standard pistol or your fists. I wish I could say that there were interesting enemies to test them out on but in reality the game only has about 5 or 6 different enemies. Get used to killing the grey suited idiots that run straight for you and Mr. Tommygun a lot.

The game’s five chapters feel a lot like ten since they run so long. It could be the game’s slow pace but each individual chapter is broken up into multiple segments that each seem far too big for such little content. The level design is as straightforward as it gets. Despite having a rocket strapped to your back there is little reason to use it at all since “secrets” (if you can even call them that) are very few. Between the repetitive enemies and the bland scenery it makes trudging through the long stages a chore. It’s disappointing because you can see the shell of what could have been a great game but the stiff controls and dull levels ruin it.

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The drab set design is especially egregious for me as I love period piece movies and the game could have capitalized on that. The graphics have their moments but are ruined by the garish color scheme. The movie was a period piece and when the game is reenacting certain moments it is very stylized and looks unique. Anything outside of that is gaudy. The Rocketeer himself makes for such a cool visual that I’m baffled that the developers could not surround him with equally pleasing aesthetics.

There’s a pretty sharp spike in difficulty in the game’s final chapter that isn’t present in the rest of the game. Generally the game does a good job of providing ammo so you don’t have to rely on your fists but the forest level is just so badly designed overall that it’s better to fly through as much of it as possible rather than trying to slog it out slowly. There’s really bad enemy placement, a confusing layout and it drags on far too long with no checkpoints. I won’t say its Ninja Gaiden stage 6-2 levels of bad but it’s really close and will almost kill your motivation to finish the game.

The Rocketeer is one of Bandai’s better NES games but that isn’t saying much considering they released crap like Dragon Power, Gilligan’s Island, and Chubby Cherub. This is a decent platformer but there are far too many better alternatives to bother.

6-out-of-10-1

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Monster Party

You know, there’s no other way to describe Monster Party then weird.  That should clue you in as to the amount of strange shit going on in the game considering the thousands of games released since.  As a loose homage to the classic movie monster films of yesteryear Monster Party certainly lives up to its title.  But for all of its strangeness the question is does it have the gameplay to back up its strange premise?

Mark is on his way home from a baseball game when he witnesses a demon fall from the sky.  Rather than run like any red blooded human being he instead strikes up a conversation with the demon named Bert.  Bert asks for his assistance ridding the Demon World of the evil monsters that have taken over.  Armed with nothing but his baseball bat Mark accepts.  I’ll use this as an opportunity to point out that not only can Bert fly because he’s a fricking dragon but he can also shoot lasers.  Why in god’s name does he need some mook from Earth?  I digress.

That premise is just as nutty as the Mario Brothers getting sucked through a pipe to the Mushroom Kingdom.  In fact Monster Party seems as though it were created by people who took the idea of Mario eating shrooms a little too seriously.  From its trippy visuals to the far too talkative bosses Monster Party ranks high on the weird meter.  The game has gained something of a cult following over the years due to its strange subject matter and everyone wondering how it got past Nintendo of America largely unscathed.

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As Mark your baseball bat is your life line.  Aside from home run swings you can also use it to knock projectiles back to their source.  It doesn’t matter the size, be it bubbles, rocks, massive javelins, if it flies in your direction it can be sent back.  You’ll need to master the timing of your swings because the bat is the only weapon available aside from switching places with Bert, which is accomplished by consuming pills dropped by enemies.

That’s right; you pop pills to change into a dragon.  As Bert you can fly and shoot long distance lasers.  At first Bert’s attack is weak but as the game progresses it grows in strength.  The convenience of attacking from range would outweigh its lack of power either way in my book.  The change is temporary but generally lasts long enough to down at least one boss.

If first impressions are everything than Monster Party is not afraid to let its freak flag fly.  The first level alone assaults you with all of the craziness the game can muster.  The strange leg enemies sticking out of the ground are a taste as you confront your first boss, a talking killer plant who is a bit too happy to see you.  “Hello!” Baby!”  Yeah.

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The nondescript backdrop lulls you into a false sense of security with its cheery music and smiling faces.  You might even think the Dark World isn’t so bad.  The game makes an abrupt change once you reach the Cactus/Haniwha statue.  It’s like a switch is flipped and shit gets real as the background completely changes.  All of the happy face blocks morph into skulls dripping blood, the enemies devolve into walking eyeballs and other such freakishness and the music becomes sinister.  Now you know why Bert needs your help.

It’s too bad the rest of the game didn’t maintain this same tone.  The following levels span a number of platform tropes such as the sewers, the lake, and the mountains.  There are a few standouts such as the Haunted Mansion but for the most part it becomes routine.  The object of every level is to beat the numerous bosses to receive the key that will open the exit.  While the normal enemies are nothing more than fodder to refill your life bar the bosses are what has propelled Monster Party to cult fame.

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Yes the nutty bosses.  Every level has at least 1 and some as many as 3 or 4.  If you’ve ever seen a screenshot of Monster Party more than likely it’s of a boss.  These odd bastards are all pretty chatty and some make no sense.  How about the dead spider and the fly hanging around its corpse who apologizes because he’s dead?  Or maybe you fancy a 3-way seafood battle royal?  Their dialogue is equally insane.  The samurai ghost informs you that “I….am a slowpoke”.  And the dancing zombies want you to do just that, watch them dance.  It’s not even a case of bad localization as the game was never released in Japan.  I’m just wondering why they like to call you baby.

For all of its strangeness Monster Party is a solid game.  For the most part the game isn’t overly hard although Mark’s short attack range is frustrating to deal with.  When you’re dealing with enemies who fire projectiles its fine but many of the bosses require you to attack in melee range and the hit detection is spotty.  The balance of power between Mark and Bert shifts considerably in Bert’s favor in the second half of the game, which makes sense in that he is a power-up of sorts.   To be fair most enemies patrol a specific stretch of land so in most cases you can stop just short and still hit them but it always feels a little too close for comfort.  I feel if the developers had increased Mark’s attack strength or range by a hair the mechanics would have felt more….”solid” I guess is the word I’m looking for.

For such an obscure release Monster Party is oddly popular.  The chances of the game seeing a re-release are nil; I doubt Bandai even remembers it exists.  Copies of the game are dirt cheap so its not exactly hard to find and I would recommend it as a good way to kill an afternoon.

7-out-of-10-1

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Dynowarz – The Destruction of Spondylus

I was never too fond of Dynowarz growing up.  It isn’t necessarily a bad game like Ikari Warriors II; it just suffers from being bland and uninteresting.  How they managed to accomplish that feat in a game about robotic dinosaur mechs beating the hell out of each other I’ll never understand.  Dynowarz does not capitalize on its concept and as such commits gaming’s greatest sin: it’s boring.

The Spondylus Solar System is a man-made environment overseen by the central computers.  One by one however each computer has been affected by an unknown virus, cutting off life support and allowing mechanized dinosaurs known as Robosaurs to roam freely.  Professor Proteus, creator of both Spondylus and the Robosaurs deduces that his former protege is behind the attack and dons a battle suit and sets out to stop his former student.

Dynowarz in some respects resembles a poor man’s Blaster Master.  Divided into two distinct halves each of the game’s seven levels begins in Cyborasaurus as you battle your way to the computer compound of each planet.  It resembles the NES Godzilla game but on a smaller scale and shares many of that game’s problems.  These levels pit you against other Robosaurs as well as smaller turrets and indigenous life.  Your large size makes you a giant target, with little room to maneuver your lumbering dinosaur.  The placement of turrets and smaller enemies are such that it’s better to simply avoid fighting altogether.  Sure you’ll take some damage but in most situations it’s unavoidable anyway.

Cyborasaurus can pick up numerous different weapons that can be powered up 3 times.  The Fist launcher, Bombs, Beams, and Fireballs all differ in range, attack speed, and power.  The game is a bit too generous with weapon drops but it at least allows you to experiment and see which your favorite is.

Defeating bosses allows access to each level’s AIC.  Like Blaster Master these segments take you out of the mech however here the focus is on platforming as you make your way to each life support computer to destroy it.  There are no extra weapons, placing the focus squarely on how well you can time your jumps.  The few enemies available are nuisances that barely warrant attention.

And that’s all there is to the game.  The major issue that brings down Dynowarz is its repetitive nature.  There is a very small selection of enemies to fight, meaning you’ll face the same 2-3 dinosaur hybrids on every level and their attack patterns never change.  Even the bosses are recycled midway through the game.  There are only 3 tunes in the entire game, one of which is a 5 second ditty during cut scenes.  The overall presentation is average in my opinion.

The weapons are ultimately unsatisfying, with each presenting their own problem.  The fist launcher follows a particular path, leaving you vulnerable to attack until it returns.  The Bombs travel in an arc and although the splash damage is lovely it leaves you open when enemies get in close.  The fireball and beams are only useful when fully powered up but in that case you wonder if it’s worth it to even bother keeping them that long.  Normally you would adapt to each weapon’s quirks to overcome the situation but the enemies attack in such unpredictable ways that none of your equipment seems adequate.

On foot the repetition is even more pronounced.  All 7 AIC rooms share the same graphical tile sets, meaning they appear identical aside from the room layouts.  On the same token entire rooms are repeated wholesale, down to the placement of floating platforms and gun turrets.  Each computer boss is exactly the same, with the only difference being the arrangement of platforms.

While Dynowarz is repetitive it’s at least easy.  You are gifted with a generously long life bar and energy pickups are in ready supply.  In addition barrier items basically grants you a shield that depletes instead of your health, making you all but invincible.  Aside from some spotty collision in the Professor sections chances are you’ll never die.  You also receive a password after every stage as well and have unlimited continues; Bandai really went out of their way to make this accessible but neutered the game in the process.

Taking my problems with the game into account Dynowarz is strictly average.  There are better games featuring the same style of gameplay available on the NES, leaving Dynowarz as the odd man out.

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Silent Bomber

Who remembers Bomberman Act Zero?  I’m sure Konami/Hudson wishes everyone would forget but it stands as a perfect example of how not to update a franchise for modern audiences.  With its dude bro look and sterilized graphic style it pandered to the American audience but everyone was far too smart to fall for it.  There was nothing wrong with the sentiment behind its creation, just its execution.  The sad thing is all Hudson needed to do was look to an overlooked gem on the PlayStation for a proper representation of Bomberman’s gameplay in 3d as I feel Silent Bomber is everything Bomberman Act Zero tried to be.

You are Jutah, a war criminal and soldier tortured by his past.  Largely devoid of any emotion Jutah is the perfect soldier as he doesn’t question orders.   The mission he is enlisted for is the destruction of the space station Dante which is threatening his home planet.  Although he is part of a team they are all separated, leaving Jutah in your (hopefully) capable hands to fulfill the mission.

With its emphasis on placing charged bombs as your means of offense Silent Bomber is not your typical action game.  While you would think the means of attack would result in slow paced combat that is not the case; Silent Bomber moves at a brisk pace and is backed up with solid controls that are adequate to the task.  There were numerous Bomberman games on the N64 that moved the series away from its strictly Pac Man style mazes however Silent Bomber does a better job of taking that series mechanics and marrying them with a solid platformer.   Silent Bomber was criminally overlooked back in the day but I’m here now to shine a light on this excellent action romp.

If you’ve played any version of Bomberman than Silent Bomber’s mechanics should be familiar.  You attack by setting bombs and then detonating them remotely.  These bombs can be set at your feet or by holding the button and bringing up the reticule you can lock onto a target and home in on it.  Locking on isn’t necessary either, once brought up you can launch bombs in the direction you are facing.  The fun comes from using your “powers” in unique ways to overcome your obstacles.  Bombs can be stacked to create bigger, more powerful explosions and can also set each other off.  It’s possible to create large daisy chain explosions that practically ignite the entire play area if you choose to be that reckless.  You’re not immune to the explosions but luckily you are equipped with a nifty Buster Drive to escape tricky situations.

Initially you’ll start off weak but can enhance your skills after every level with E-Chips in 3 categories: number of bombs you can set, distance, and defense.  Near the end of the game you’ll be able to unleash up to 8 bombs from a relatively large distance.  The 3 liquids you collect also complement the core bombing mechanic pretty well.  Napalm isn’t that different from your typical bomb but causes lingering fire damage, Paralysis liquid paralyzes (come on!) enemies, and gravity gel creates an awesome black hole that causes mass destruction.  It’s not a large arsenal but once you’ve had a little practice with the game’s mechanics you’ll feel like a one man army.

With 14 missions Silent Bomber is pretty long and has a wide variety of mission objectives to stave boredom.  The mission’s will have you performing an array of tasks, from blowing up a set number of targets to protecting an envoy.  Very few levels share the same objective and despite the game taking place exclusively on a space station it does a good job of varying the locations.  And the game puts up a nice challenge.  You won’t finish this in one or two sittings but you’ll definitely have fun while exploring its mechanics.  Large portions of the environment are destructible and you’ll discover many hidden items by accident as you simply blow shit up.  Adapting to dropping bombs or launching them will force you to think creatively and its always satisfying when a chain reaction is created whether by skill or happenstance.  The game pumps out an infinite number of enemies in most areas so you’ll have plenty of practice learning to effective clear the screen in as little time.   All of the wanton destruction does serve a purpose as you are graded at the end of each level and rewarded accordingly.   Your score is affected by numerous factors, such as enemies killed, objects destroyed and taking little damage.

For those that want more depth there are plenty of advanced techniques to master, such as wall jumping, explosion jumping, and combining liquids with your own bombs for added effects.  The game rewards those who take the time to learn its mechanics by awarding more E-chips for customization and unlocking Advanced Mode.  Here you are dropped into a mission of your choosing to complete as fast as possible and can snag Data chips that unlock new characters in the VR Arena.   As if the main game weren’t enough fun the arena allows you to fight the computer or another player using unlocked characters and is a true test of how well you’ve learned all it has to offer.

It isn’t too surprising that Silent Bomber flew under the radar of many.  It didn’t receive much of a marketing push and there’s also the fact that Bandai has pushed out a lot of crap in their time (they’re kind of the Acclaim of Japan).  However!  This is one of the few cases where an otherwise terrible publisher did us a solid and released a quality game most should not have passed over.   For those that like a good action shooter I highly recommend Silent Bomber.