Posted on

Crusader of Centy

While RPGs were not as plentiful on the Genesis the ones it did receive were generally excellent. Everyone is aware of Phantasy Star and the Shining series but the system’s action RPGs enjoy a lower profile. Crusader of Centy was a late 1994 release that snuck onto store shelves with little fanfare. That is unfortunate as it is an excellent little hidden gem that serves as a perfect Sega counterpart to A Link to the Past. Fans of the genre should definitely track this down.

In the town of Soleil by law all boys that come of age at 14 (!) are required to gear up and train for battle. On Corona’s 14th birthday he receives his father’s sword and shield and sets out to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Unfortunately his simple ambition will eventually place him at the center of the centuries long conflict between humans and monsters, one that will force him to learn some harsh truths about the world in the process.

The story is surprisingly involved considering the game is targeted at a younger audience. I won’t go so far as to say that it is deep but it does bring up numerous philosophical points such as prejudice against demons and will actually make you wonder who are the actual villains in the story, the demons who simply want to make a place for themselves or the humans that relentlessly pursue them. You get to see it from both points of view which is actually pretty unique if a bit heavy handed. The plot is split into two halves with the second half of the game seeing you revisit previously cleared areas. Normally this is padding of the highest order but it is kept brief and there is a good story based reason for it.

image002

There is no getting around the fact that Centy resembles Zelda a little too closely but to call it a clone would be doing the game a disservice. Aside from the overhead view and Corona’s outfit the two games have a wildly different focus. Whereas Zelda manages to evenly place an emphasis on action and puzzle solving Centy is more combat focused with some light platforming sprinkled in. Corona will eventually gain the ability to throw his sword and jump early on but the controls still feel a bit clunky. His movement is slow and the sword attack swings in an arc which doesn’t always connect with enemies even when they are right in your face. Most of these problems are fixed with the animal helpers, the game’s most unique element.

Throughout the game different animal companions will you join you in your quest, bestowing different skills and abilities, some combat related and others more oriented to puzzle solving. Some like Chilly the penguin and Inferno the lion will add ice and fire to your attacks. Flash the cheetah increases your movement speed and monarch the butterfly will allow you to control your sword’s movement once thrown. With some creative thinking some of the more exotic partners can be used to further trivialize certain parts of the game; you can use Wong to make a clone of yourself to lure bosses and attack freely or utilize Drippy to completely avoid AOE attacks. In total there are 15 that can be used in pairs that can increase their power or produce totally new skills. These animals function like items in a Zelda dungeon with the entire game relying on their use.

I’ve probably given the impression that each of the game’s dungeons and caves will involve heavy use of your companions when in reality that isn’t true. The game’s puzzles are incredibly simple, even simpler than the block pushing in Zelda. More often than not you are simply stepping on switches or at most utilizing one unique skill every so often to create a path or activate a distant switch. Areas like the Tower of Babel and the final dungeon, which see you utilizing nearly every one of your partners are rare and offer a glimpse of what the game could have been if the designers were a little more ambitious.

All in all the quest will take you 10-12 hours to complete which seems an appropriate length. That’s just enough time to fully explore all of the game’s mechanics and take you to some interesting locales without the game wearing out its welcome. The game is insanely easy; not that your typical action RPG is ever difficult but even with the absence of any life restoring items to bring into battle (outside of one follower) you’ll rarely die. Even if you were to completely avoid collecting the golden apples your life bar will become absurdly long by the end, allowing you to make many mistakes. Between this and the overwhelming power of some of the animal combinations you’ll breeze through the game but at the same time enjoy it while it lasts.

image003 image034 image123 image128

Crusader of Centy’s visual art style is far more vibrant than most Genesis titles and a welcome relief from the overly dark games that make up its library. While the surface similarities to Zelda are there the overall tone is a bit cartoonier. You’ll also spend far more time in outdoor environments than stuffy dungeons that share a similar visual style. There’s a great deal of variety in the lands you’ll visit and while they do run the gamut of video game tropes they all look excellent. The soundtrack is generally solid; there are no stand out tracks but what is there is pleasant to listen to.

Crusader of Centy might be light on originality but it succeeds where it counts most; fun. The game moves at a brisk pace and introduces new elements often enough that you will rarely ever be bored. It’s brevity will make you wish the game were a bit longer but you’ll have so much fun with the content the game does provide that it won’t matter.

8-out-of-101

Posted on

Gunple: Gunman’s Proof

 

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is not only one of the most influential action RPGs of all time but also one of the best in gaming history. With that in mind it is a bit odd that it inspired so few clones during the 16-bit era. While most would point to Crusade of Centy as the most egregious copycat Gunple: Gunman’s Proof takes that title in my opinion. Its late release in 1997 is the main reason it has such a low profile but its Japan only status is also a factor. That doesn’t matter now however thanks to a fan translation, allowing more to experience this hidden gem. Though flawed Gunman’s Proof is still a pretty great game.

Gunman’s Proof shifts the setting a few hundred years to the old west. In 1880 two meteorites crash on Earth and immediately begin to cause the appearance of creatures dubbed Demiseeds. One day a boy from Bronco village happens upon a UFO whose two inhabitants inform him that they are space sheriffs on the trail of a criminal named Demi they believe came to Earth. One of the aliens, Zero, inhabits the boy’s body to search for Demi thus beginning the quest.

The tone is definitely wacky and if the goofy title screen and music did not give that away then the interactions with the town’s inhabitants will drive it home. This is a world where no one bats an eye at a 10-year running around with a machine gun cocked and loaded. The gun shop owner gleefully teaches you how to use even more outlandish weapons such as flamethrowers, shotguns, and even a bazooka. There are even martial arts masters who will teach you new combat techniques such as a charged shot and a shoryuken (I’m not joking!).

image040 image122 image031 image010

image105 image171

The humorous tone is carried on in the game’s graphics. The art style is even cartoonier than its inspiration with extremely bright colors being the rule of the day. The enemy sprites are well animated and extremely detailed, especially the bosses. These massive contraptions are the game’s visual highlight as they are quite unlike anything you have seen before. That being said there is no denying that once you enter a dungeon Nintendo could have sued for plagiarism as they look near identical to a Link to the Past. Not just a little. A lot.

Those similarities begin to disappear the further you progress but the HUD is a constant reminder of the game’s source material. Luckily the game’s setting allows for some gameplay differences. You have a separate button for ranged and melee combat with various weapons that will augment both. Admittedly your fists can’t match up to the infinite ammo gun since you can shoot in 8 directions and can perform a stronger charged shot. It’s clear the game was designed around gunplay as you can strafe and crouch and crawl to dodge bullets.

Combat is the primary focus and the game provides plenty of options in that regard. You won’t be carrying around an inventory of items; all sub weapons drop from enemies and are temporary. It sounds limiting but weapon drops are so frequent you’ll rarely have to rely on your default items. To an extent this almost feels more like a typical action game since you have lives, ammo, a limited stock of smart bombs, and even a score. That these elements were adapted to this style of game so well makes it feel unique.

image073 image165 image142

Gunman’s Proof goes to great lengths to replicate A Link to the Past in both its looks and gameplay so it is disheartening to see it fail in the most crucial area: its dungeons. The absence of any puzzles or special items needed for progression means you can simply head directly toward the boss if you know the exact route. In fact the game rewards you for clearing the dungeons as fast as possible. Not to say that those elements are absolutely necessary in an adventure game but their absence leaves exploring the dungeons a hollow experience. The few treasure chests you’ll find merely contain treasures used to obtain a higher score in order to earn extra lives. Very rarely will you find a permanent weapon upgrade.

The lackluster dungeons wouldn’t stand out so much if they were not the main thrust of the game. There is very little impetus to explore the overworld as any items such as life increasing red coins will be found on the way to the next dungeon anyway. There are a few hidden skills to learn but they serve little practical use in combat. Despite the size of the map the world is actually quite small. With dungeons that can be cleared in 10 minutes or less the game falls on the short side.

Yet in spite of all these faults it still nails its core gameplay. The game is worth checking out just to see what Zelda would be like in a different setting. You’ll pick up an interesting combination of weapons and skills that cater to those who like hand to hand combat (so to speak) or to fight from a distance. The frequent weapon drops mean you’ll never have to worry about ammo and can freely change almost whenever you want. While it is true that you can blitz each dungeon at the very least you’ll have fun doing so.

Between the number of extra lives you’ll amass and the constant food drops Gunple falls on the easy side. The game is a bit too generous with food; there were times I was on the verge of death and within seconds almost refilled my life bar. Midway through the game weaker enemies are replaced with more active demiseeds that aggressively fight back but that does little to ramp up the challenge. A good bit into the game and you can find the red bandana, which cuts damage in half while doubling your attack power. Insane. The only real test comes from the game’s bosses. Their patterns are simple but your hit box is large which makes dodging fire in tight spaces a nuisance but it doesn’t matter. If you have spare lives you are revived on the spot much like fairies in Zelda. At least they look cool.

Gunman’s Proof is a good stab at replicating the Zelda formula but misses a few of the essential elements that make that series truly special. The areas in which it differs are where it shines brightest, i.e. its story and combat. It has its flaws but is still more than worthwhile for any fan of adventure games. Unfortunately some Japanese is required as you are given specific instructions and need to complete certain objectives in a given order. However there is a fan translation for those willing to emulate and I say it’s worth it.

7-out-of-10

Posted on

Star Tropics 2

Star Tropics was a solid game, one that was heavily inspired by Zelda and sort of scratched that itch for those seeking more adventure in that mold. While I enjoyed it I can’t say that I ever found myself hoping for a sequel. Aside from the shocking fact that Star Tropics actually received a sequel was its release; by 1994 the 16-bit war was about to enter its second phase and it isn’t a stretch to say that no one was paying attention to 8-bit releases anymore (unless you lived in Brazil). As one of a handful of NES games released that year Star Tropics 2 improves nearly every facet of the original and while it isn’t the most original or creative game ever made it is highly recommended if you enjoyed the series’ first outing.

Not much time has passed since Mike Jones rescued his uncle Dr. J and the Argonian refugees from the evil Zoda. When Mike helps his uncle solve a riddle that had stumped him for months he is unexpectedly thrown into the past, beginning a time hopping journey to ultimately find the Tetrads and make his way home.

The game’s plot is just as goofy as the first game and full of weird circumstances as well. In one of the game’s stranger sub quests you must retrieve a pizza delivery for Cleopatra, which is absurd not just because pizza shouldn’t even exist in that period but because it also takes days to deliver. The trip through time sees you rubbing elbows with many famous literary figures such as Sherlock Holmes, Merlin, and King Arthur. This is a game that revels in its absurdity with that charm being one of the reasons the game is so enjoyable.

image020 image132 image146 image100

For the most part the game adheres to the same structure as the original. Rather than a series of different islands the game sees you visiting a different era in time each chapter. The change in aesthetic each chapter alleviates one of the biggest criticisms of the first game; the island theme grew old no matter how they tried to dress it up. As I mentioned previously the game makes the most of its premise by having you visit some historic figure and it can be pretty cool at times, such as solving a crime alongside Sherlock Holmes. The overall maps are smaller but the game is just as long as its predecessor and with its varied locales and brisk pace you’ll actually want to see it through to the end.

Aside from its theme the largest improvement comes from the controls. Like A Link to the Past Mike has full 8-way movement and it does wonders for dungeon exploration. With the rigid, grid based movement gone the game is a lot faster. Mike can also change direction in midair somewhat although it should be noted that the platforming segments are a lot trickier since your movements aren’t so measured. Some smaller gameplay improvements have also been added; your main weapon no longer degrades based on health and you can actually simply walk across the tiles on the floor instead of slowly jumping on each one. In the grand scheme these are minor but when taken as a whole it makes playing the game so much more fluid.

Where the game’s controls have been significantly improved the dungeons do feel like a step back. On average the dungeon’s are of medium size and for the most part follow a linear path. The puzzles have also been simplified although to be fair the first game leaned heavily on its tile based switches. Since you aren’t relegated to playing hopscotch to find tile based switches the clever disappearing blocks and other creative trickery are no longer present. More emphasis has been placed on clearing rooms of enemies rather than finding one off items for progress. While I can appreciate the game’s faster pace it also loses something in the process.

What hasn’t changed is the game’s difficulty. With a tighter focus on combat comes stronger enemies and as early as chapter four your life bar can be torn to shreds in seconds. It took longer to reach that point in Star Tropics and you would think having permanently stronger weapons would help but no dice. A few boss battles such as the undead miner are nearly hair pulling in their challenge and not in a good way. It’s certainly still manageable but the bump in difficulty might come as a shock to veterans of the series initial outing.

In a way it is amazing that such a meaty title was released in the last year of the system’s life as projects of this magnitude are usually bumped up to the successor platform. Star Tropics 2 is a worthy follow-up and a solid adventure game that has a lower profile than it deserves and is worth checking out.

7-out-of-10-1

Posted on

Star Tropics

These days there are probably few who remember Star Tropics as it seems Nintendo has washed their hands of it completely.  While some remember it fondly to others it has a bad rap as a cheesy Legend of Zelda rip-off.  To some extent it’s true; it’s immediately obvious where the game’s inspiration came from.  But in my opinion there are enough unique ideas in Star Tropics that it can stand on its own two feet as an enjoyable action RPG for fans of the genre.

Mike Jones is visiting his uncle, archaeologist Dr. Jones for the summer on C-Island only to find him missing on arrival.  After questioning his assistant Mike decides to explore the surrounding islands for his uncle after discovering a letter addressed to him, stating that he was in fact abducted by aliens.

From its interface, puzzles, and many of its items Star Tropics is a blatant clone of Zelda.  Created specifically for America I wonder if the reasoning behind its creation is that Zelda might have been too complex for most gamers.  As a linear experience it’s much easier to get into and its mechanics and puzzles never reach the abstract levels of its older brethren.  While the feeling of déjà vu is ever present the game’s story and setting are at least interesting enough to make up for it.  Despite the massive coverage Nintendo Power dedicated to the games the series never caught on as well as it should have, leaving guys like me to extol its virtues.

Star Tropics 201403301303505 Star Tropics 201403032051421 Star Tropics 201403301327272 Star Tropics 201403312237072

Since the game is divided into 8 chapters you won’t have to explore the overworld for your next objective.  The overworld map is littered with many towns, dungeons and other locales to explore.  In most cases you’ll enter the towns to learn of a problem that needs solving in order to progress, leading to a cave or dungeon.  Though linear you are still free to explore the confines of each chapter’s section of the world map.  Heart containers and are hidden in clever locations for those willing to seek them out.

The caves and dungeons are where you’ll spend the majority of your time however and this is where Star Tropics takes its cues from Zelda.  All dungeons are room based and reach pretty sizable proportions early on.  There are enough hidden rooms, fake exits (you’ll curse when it happens), and traps that it’s conceivable that you’ll die often.  By Chapter 4 the number of instant death traps like spiked pits, rolling balls and my favorite, water traps increases significantly.  To say nothing of the game’s tricky puzzle elements.

The vast majority of puzzles you’ll encounter in the game are of the switch pushing variety.  The special switches perform numerous functions such as opening doors, destroying passages, revealing items, or even assisting in killing bosses.  It could very easily have become repetitive in short order but Nintendo has varied up the switches so that each one feels unique.  In most cases you’ll see the switch but will have to figure out the proper route to hit it.  There’s a heavy dose of platforming in the game that steadily ramps up in difficulty. You might not think it’s possible to die seeing as you can only jump when there are blocks to reach but disappearing blocks or approaching enemies will throw you off your game.   It’s in this regard that Star Tropics manages to distance itself from Zelda despite its surface similarity.

As well as its puzzles Star Tropics manages to avoid bogging you down with an extensive inventory.  Your initial weapon is a yo-yo that will upgrade to a Morning Star and finally a Super Nova.  Your weapon is dependent on your life bar as it degrades once your life dips below certain points.  There are a slew of secondary weapons such as baseball bats, bolas, and lasers that are limited in use.  There are a few special items that only see use in the dungeons as well, such as the Rod of Sight (to see ghosts), the lantern, or stop watches to freeze enemies.  While the burgeoning inventory of Zelda and other games of its ilk is missed it does keep the game flowing.

What doesn’t however are the game’s rigid controls.   Like the blocks that you spend copious amounts of time jumping on the game’s movement is grid based.  You can’t make slight movements, it’s all or nothing.  While the original Zelda limited movement to the four cardinal directions it was designed around that restriction.  With the exception of the floor tiles each room here is not.  Speaking of tiles, because you move so slowly (especially when jumping) the later portions of the game that feature excessive platforming become tedious.  It’s not to say you can’t adjust but the game suffers slightly as a result of this.

Star Tropics is a solid alternative to Zelda and a game that I urge any fan of action RPGs to seek out.  Nintendo’s use of Zelda as a starting point works in the game’s favor and in the end Star Tropics is unique enough that it shouldn’t be a deterrent.

7-out-of-10-1

Posted on

Goof Troop

While licensed video games have been a staple of the industry almost from its inception sometimes you have to wonder what the hell goes through a publisher’s mind (aside from potentially easy money) when deciding to pick up a particular license.  How the hell do you create a compelling video game based around ET anyway?  Or how about Absolute creating a generic platformer out of Home Improvement, you know the show about a goofy handyman?  Some properties simply don’t lend themselves to conventional game mechanics, especially in the 80s and 90s.

If you would have asked me years ago Goof Troop would have fit in that category.  Unlike its Disney contemporaries the Goof Troop cartoon wasn’t based around high adventure but was more comedic in tone.  Ducktales has the decade’s long comic book history to draw from and Rescue Rangers was all about solving the latest mystery of the day.  Yet somehow Capcom were able to create a light Zelda inspired adventure for the younger set that actually works and were it not for its brevity would be pretty excellent.

As one of the first titles designed by Resident Evil’s Shinji Mikami you obviously won’t find any elements from that legendary series here.  Goof Troop has more in common with the Legend of Zelda and Pirate Ship Higemaru, one of Capcom’s first games.  As either Goofy or his son Max you’ll visit five locations on Spoonerville Island on the way to saving Pete and his son PJ.  It shares the same pirate theme as Higemaru and its heavy use of barrel throwing but places a heavier emphasis on puzzle solving, hence the Link (heh) to Zelda.

Each level is broken up into a series of rooms that usually have some form of puzzle that needs to be solved before moving on.  Goofy has no means to protect himself normally but can pick up and throw the many barrels littering the environment.  He can also put his hands up and try to catch objects throw from above.  Although you don’t have a life bar collecting enough fruit without getting hit will protect you from one hit.

Goof Troop (U) [!]057 Goof Troop (U) [!]025 Goof Troop (U) [!]004 Goof Troop (U) [!]065

The puzzles you’ll come across run the gamut of adventure game tropes, from block pushing to switch flipping.  You can hold a maximum of two items at once and will frequently need to drop items for later use.  Truthfully the item list is relatively small but each sees heavy use.  The grappling hook is the most prominent as it be used to cross gaps, grab items, and stun pirates and kill weaker enemies.  The plank will create a bridge and the bell will attract any pirates in the area.  Like Zelda smaller keys open doors while a big key is needed to face each level’s boss.

While the game is perfectly balanced in single player it excels in coop.  Here each player is restricted to carrying only one item, forcing constant communication to get your objectives completed.  You can pass items between players when needed.  Deciding who will carry what and coordinating the use of the bell to trick enemies into an ambush or even to inadvertently complete certain puzzles for you is awesome.  The teamwork aspect of multiplayer is the game’s best attribute but it also makes an already criminally short game even briefer.

If there’s one criticism to lobby at the game it’s that it is too easy.   While there are some clever puzzles here and there it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, meaning most veteran gamers can breeze through the game in an hour or so.  While the threat of death is persistent as you can only take one or two hits you’ll rack up extra lives through general play offsetting this.  The only real challenge comes from the game’s bosses; I just wish there were more of them or even just a longer game in general.  The game is clearly targeting younger gamers and it exceeds but it also plays it a bit too safe and suffers as a result.

Goof Troop turned out far better than anyone reasonably expected and is a solid title that only suffers from a dearth of content.  If the game were longer with a ramp up in difficulty it could have been special.

7-out-of-10-1

Posted on

Neutopia

I’ve seen my share of rip offs but this is in a special class of its own.  If you were a Turbo Grafx-16 owner RPGS were not all too common on the platform so any new release in that category was cause for celebration.  For the most part, at least.  There’s nothing wrong with aping a more popular game; hell some of the best games of all time have done that.   But at the least those games introduced their own unique spin on tried and true mechanics.  Neutopia basically says fuck that, and lifts all of Zelda’s mechanics wholesale.

The Demon Dirth invades the kingdom of Neutopia and not only kidnaps the Princess Aurora but the 8 medallions that maintained peace in the 4 lands of the world.  The warrior Jazeta is tasked with recovering the medallions from the 8 labyrinths they are hidden in and saving the Princess.  While it steals its identity from Zelda there are a few features unique to Neutopia that would not show up until later Zelda games.  However they do not make up for the game’s shortcomings and leave Neutopia as a hollow experience that is a shell of the game it mirrors.

Divided into 4 lands (land, sea, sky, and subterranean) each houses 2 dungeons as well as a wealth of other items.  While the overworld map of each land never approaches the size and scale of any of the Zelda games it’s still possible to get lost finding each objective.  Your compass will at the very least point you in the right direction but navigating there is up to you.  There is are an army of inhabitants in each world with items to sell or information so overall you aren’t left clueless at any given moment.

While the list of items you collect is very small and analogous to Zelda the one lone standout is the Fire Rod.  It increases in power up until the end of the game and its strength is determined by your health.  Low health produces a small globe that barely travels any distance.  With a longer life bar you can produce a trail of flame that will burn everything in its path.  Like the 2 candles it can also burn trees and rocks to reveal hidden passages.  If the rest of the game had shown the same level of inspiration than it wouldn’t be compared to Nintendo’s classic series as much.  But that isn’t the case.

From the moment you enter a dungeon this is Zelda with a new skin.  From bombing walls to collecting a key to unlock each dungeon’s boss no stone is left unturned.  Christ you even have to kill all enemies in a room or push blocks to open doors as well.  It goes even further than that; crystal balls will reveal the full map of each dungeon and each possesses at least one upgrade although they aren’t mandatory for completion.  A lot of the room layouts are an exact match as well; Jesus Christ they were shameless!  The mechanics are solid since they were working from a good base but the game is soulless as a result.

And that extends to the production values.  The 4 worlds are visually distinct at the very least but nothing to write home about.  The dungeons all share the same dreary look but are spruced up somewhat later on.  The music is a mixed bag with some standout tracks however the soundtrack is dull overall.  The biggest letdown though is the spotty collision detection.  Between your sword attacks and the Fire Rod your hits won’t connect like they should, leading to lots of unnecessary damage.  While it isn’t a difficult game the enemies do their fair share of damage compounded by this issue.

I sincerely doubt you’ll find a more blatant Zelda clone anywhere gameplay wise.  But at the very least it means the fundamental mechanics are sound.  I wouldn’t recommend Neutopia unless you are a true die hard action RPG fan as there are better alternatives such as Alundra.

6-out-of-101