Friday, March 29, 2013

Forgotten Gems: TumblePop


Back again for another round of forgotten gaming classics. This time, we take a look at another fairly obscure arcade game that was mentioned last time around, that being 1991's TumblePop. TumblePop was made by Japanese developer/publisher Data East, who were one of the kings of the arcade's heyday. Data East was responsible for such early arcade hits as Burger Time, Astro Fighter, Karate Champ, and Ring King. They also made later hits such as Karnov, Two Crude Dudes, Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Heavy Barrel, Captain America and the Avengers, Kid Niki, Breakthru, Bloody Wolf, and the Magical Drop series. They were also a big name in the late 80s/early 90s home console market, producing such hits as Joe & Mac, Congo's Caper, and High Seas Havoc. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention their infamous (but decent) Street Fighter II ripoff, Fighter's History, which became a short-lived series of it's own.

"It SUCKS, while it CUTS!"

Unlike the last entry, Avenging Spirit, TumblePop was more of your traditional arcade fare: light on story, big on high scores and just outright fun. The basic premise of the game is that you play a pair of "Ghost Buster" type characters, who use (get this) vacuum cleaner type gizmos to suck up ghosts, demons, aliens and other monsters. A concept that would, in some form, pop up again years later in Nintendo's own Luigi's Mansion. Once you suck up enemies, you can blast them back OUT of the vacuum thingy to use as projectiles against other enemies. And therein lies the core gameplay mechanic, and basic fun of Tumble Pop.

"I'll have the Calamari, Bob."

Similar to the Taito classic Bubble Bobble, when enemies are destroyed, they often leave behind goodies for you to collect, such as coins, etc. In fact, the game seems largely inspired by earlier hits like Bubble Bobble as well as Capcom's Buster Bros, and the game takes the same classic arcade approach of the action being limited to little "Screens", instead of the kinds of sprawling levels seen in the later side-scroller genre. Like those earlier games, it also features two player simultaneous co-op gameplay, which just adds to the pandemonium. Along with goodies from enemies, you also collect occasional letters that, as you can see in the picture above, eventually spell out "Tumbepop", and when you get the full word, you are whisked off to a timed bonus stage where you can get even MORE high-score ensuring goodies, as well as extra lives.

"Alright Mister, FREEZE!"

The game plays out over 10 different areas, representing (mostly) real places on earth, such as New York, Moscow, Japan, Egypt, Australia, etc. In the final two areas (SPOILERS) the game sees you travel to Outer Space and finally The Moon. Each area features it's own themed monsters, as well as typically one big boss fight at the end. And as you have seen in these pictures, there are some crazy bosses, like a giant octopus, a killer snowman, a giant clown robot, a flaming dragon, an enormous genie, etc. And if that weren't enough, if you failed to defeat all the monsters in a given time, a Dracula-type dude will wander on screen and if he catches you, you lose a life. Major bummer. Totally bogus! But I digress.

"What the hell happened? Now we're colorless AND adorable!?"

As mentioned in the previous article, as coincidental Fate would have it, unfortunately the only platform that TumblePop was ever ported to, like Avenging Spirit before it, was the original Game Boy, in 1992. Again, awesome for Game Boy owners, too bad for anybody else. As again, this would have made an amazing NES game, or even SNES or Genesis game. I certainly would have loved to have rented or maybe even owned it on NES as a kid. The one big difference between the two however, in my personal experience, was that I actually got to PLAY the arcade version of TumblePop as it was long a mainstay of the local area skating rink. As a matter of fact, as a call back to an even earlier article, remember that buddy of mine Harold, whose favorite game EVER is M.C. Kids? Yup, well TumblePop was pretty much his favorite arcade game too. And wouldn't you know it (unlike his modern taste in games), BOTH of these classics were actually fun! Damn you Harold!!

I guess it's true what they say...being on game box art really DOES make you gain weight!

It should be mentioned that the Game Boy version of TumbePop differed slightly, in that it featured a "World Map" of sorts, where you could even exit areas if they were too hard and come back later, as well as an on-map Shop where you could use coins collected to buy upgrades. Pretty nifty all around. And, again like Avenging Spirit, the Game Boy version of TumblePop, as luck would have it, is available for download on the 3DS eShop. I would highly suggest giving both games a whirl, as they're well worth it.

Well, that about wraps it up folks! Another fun game, faded from memory, but now resurrected through the power of....well, my bodacious writing! Go find yourself a copy of TumblePop, and suck away!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Avenging Spirit

When it comes to classic/retro gaming, most people would probably be amazed at just how many truly great, obscure classics there are out there that they've not only never played, but likely never even heard of. And so, as part of my ongoing Retro Ministry, I intend to reacquaint folks with some of these forgotten gems over time. As comes with the territory, these entries will not be about the bigger, more popular games that a lot more people know about. No, instead, these will strictly be focused on games that are rare, but awesome.

Right off the bat you can see that this game screams "Awesome".

First up, we're going to look at a little number called "Avenging Spirit", or as it was known in Japan, "Phantasm". Avenging Spirit was originally an arcade game by Jaleco, who also brought you such classics as Astyanax, the Bases Loaded series, and the Rushing Beat series. With Avenging Spirit, however, you had a game that was a bit ahead of it's time and rather unique in it's approach. It was, at it's core, another action/platformer type of game, similar to Mario, Mega Man or Contra. But where AS really stood out, was also the "gimmick" that made it incredibly fun. The plot can be summarized as follows: You're a dude who was walking his girlfriend home one night, when you are ambushed by villainous agents, who kidnap your girlfriend, and shoot you down, leaving you for dead. You come back as a ghost, and your girlfriend's father, a research scientist specializing in spectral phenomenon, wants you to try and get his daughter back, as she's being held for random to ensure her father's aid in nefarious plans.

Words can't do justice to how cool this game really is.

So that's the basic setup. You play as a ghost, and while you have the awesome ability to possess enemies to use their powers, the catch is that if the body you're inhabiting dies, you have a limited amount of time to possess another body, otherwise your energy will dissipate, you'll pass on to the "Other Side", and your mission to save your girlfriend will have failed. So while you get this bad ass ability to basically play as a wide assortment of various characters with all sorts of weapons and powers, you're also challenged by your spectral limitations. And when I say you can possess enemies, literally, you can take over and play as pretty much every enemy type in the game, except for the bosses. Naturally.  As you can see above, you get an energy bar for your ghost, which goes down every time you leave a possessed body, as well as a life-bar for the enemies you possess at the bottom of the screen. Different enemy types also give you varying speed, strength, jumping power, etc., in addition to their unique weapon. Of those enemy types, as mentioned, for a game from 1991, you get a pretty healthy selection to choose from. They include, as seen above, nefarious 1930s mobsters complete with pistols, and feisty Amazon women who look suspiciously like classic Wonder Woman, who use their raw power to punch waves of force at you.  You can also play Rambo-esque commandos with machine guns, ninjas who are very agile and throw stars, goofy wizards with magic wands, a baseball player complete with a bat, a robot, an invisible man, and even a fire breathing DRAGON (probably the coolest thing you can play in the whole game).

 See, you can play a DRAGON, and he even has good fashion sense!

You have to use these awesome abilities to make your way through six stages, all while smashing the shit out of enemies, and possessing some at your leisure to accomplish this. Each stage has a boss, of course, and naturally, especially considering it's an arcade game and wants our quarters, they aren't easy. You are also tasked with collecting 3 keys in stages 2, 5 and 6 (random I know), which are used at the end of the game to rescue your girlfriend, as if beating the game wasn't enough. And just to really stick it to you, if you DON'T get all the keys in those stages, you'll actually be unable to rescue her at all, and even though you can still beat the boss and defeat the bad guys, you'll actually get a bad ending (SPOILERS). So trust me, you wanna get those damn keys!

Lookin' pretty neat in 8-bit.

The game was also ported a year later in 1992 to the Nintendo Game Boy. Having played both versions, with obvious "downgrades" to graphics and such, the game holds up remarkably well, and I honestly can't see too much different in the port. The Game Boy version seems to retain most of the enemies, all the stages and bosses, and plays basically the same (if not actually a little bit tighter than the arcade original). Sadly, Avenging Spirit was ONLY ported to the Game Boy and nothing else, which is too bad, because looking at that screenshot above, I could really see it having been great on NES in full color, not to mention being a no-brainier for the 16-bit Super NES. It's actually a similarly odd case to another obscure arcade gem, Tumble Pop by Data East (which I'll cover later), that was also ONLY ported to the Game Boy. Damn Game Boy got all the luck. And while I did have a Game Boy as a kid, I didn't get one until, I do believe the Christmas of 1993, and I never actually heard of this game until I was an adult. I just think it would have made a great NES game, and I would have had a higher likelihood of perhaps seeing at my local rental store and actually getting to play it as a kid. I only lament this, mind you, because while I love this game as a kid, you know how much more open and enthusiastic about everything you were as a child....I absolutely would have been nuts about this game back then.

Talk about misleading covers.....I bet this pic alone cost many kids being able to play this gem.

 Then again, there's a very long list of games I never got to play or even heard of as a kid that I wouldn't discover until my teens at least, when internet was more prevalent. Real damn shame, that. BUT, all things considered, the Game Boy version that we did get is a great port of the game, and is actually available for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. You can also apparently get a version of the arcade original for iPhone, though personally, I just simply couldn't see playing old school side-scrollers with those fake touch-screen "buttons" they try to get away with. Me, I need a real controller in my hands! Of course there are "other" means to find and play the arcade version if you wish, and considering that's how I got to play it, I'll just say that if you know what I'm talking about and can, by all means enjoy! You'll be glad you did.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Childhood Memories: Captain N

So, sticking to the theme of DiC Nintendo-based cartoon series, I might as well hit on the non-Mario member of the group. That would be a little series called "Captain N: The Game Master". The show's origins actually date back to the magazine Nintendo Power, as a comic created by editor Randy Studdard, and the original Nintendo Power incarnation was quite a bit different. In that incarnation, the character was called "Captain Nintendo", and he fought against a rogue Nintendo computer called Mother Brain, and he had the ability to bring life to Nintendo game characters temporarily, to help him do battle. Nintendo liked this idea, and used the core concept to shop around another cartoon series. And as such, Captain N the cartoon was produced by DiC, who had already handled their Mario cartoons. In it's more well known cartoon incarnation, Captain N took a different, and arguably cooler form (though to be fair, the original concept was pretty neat).

Saturday Morning Awesomeness

Debuting on September 9th, 1989 on NBC, "Captain N: The Game Master" starred the character Kevin Keene, a California teenager who was obsessed with Nintendo games. As shown in the opening credits, while playing a game (Punch Out in this case), Kevin's television turns into a portal, which sucks him and his dog Duke into "Videoland", a world where games from the Nintendo Entertainment System make up a network of independent but connected worlds. The central hub of Videoland, known as the "Palace of Power", is under attack by the villain from Metroid, Mother Brain, and her minions (made up of enemies from many other games, as well as Metroid itself), and the ruler, Princess Lana, is the one who sent for a hero to help tip the scales in an endless war. Kevin is ported into this strange land, and finds himself surrounded by heroes from many of his favorite video games, such as Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and Simon Belmont from Castlevania. He also finds that peripherals from his NES have become empowered weapons, such as a Light Gun that fires real laser shots, and an NES controller whose buttons allow him incredible feats, like the "Start" button allowing him to temporarily "pause" everything around him, or pressing directions on the "D-Pad" to make him jump very high or "slide" out of the way of harm.

Da Bad Guys

The show operated from that basic premise, with Princess Lana and the heroes, led by Kevin, known as "Captain N", against the evil Mother Brain, and her armies, including her main henchmen King Hippo from Punch Out and the Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus. Another semi-regular henchmen of sorts, was Dr. Wily from the Mega Man series, who provided various robot villains for Mother Brain to throw at the heroes in typically inane schemes. In a given episode, Mother Brain would usually either attack one of the video game worlds, or use one of the worlds to lure the heroes into some kind of trap.

The Original Mega Man........Robot Masters?

The list of NES games whose worlds were visited or represented was rather extensive. Such games included Donkey Kong, Mega Man, Castlevania, Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda, The Adventures of Bayou Billy, Dragon Quest, Tetris, Faxanadu, etc.  And as such, many of those game's enemies or even heroes would show up in the episodes. For example, major villains made appearances such as Count Dracula, Donkey Kong, the Dragonlord from Dragon Quest (at the time known as Dragon Warrior in the U.S.), the villain Malkil from Wizards & Warriors, Medusa from Kid Icarus, and even Ganon from The Legend of Zelda. As far as heroes, many big names show up to help the heroes, such as Bayou Billy, Doctor Light (here called Wright, which it was officially mistranslated as in one or more of the earliest Mega Man games in North America), Pero from Puss n Boots, Robin Hood, and even Link and Princess Zelda. The only major Nintendo franchise of the time that had come out by 1989/90 not represented at all, was obviously Super Mario Bros., because it had it's own show(s). On a cool side note, the two episodes that feature Link and Zelda have the same voice actors as from the Zelda episodes from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (and the same for Ganon as well).

A Meeting of the Heroes

Much like the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Captain N also features a lot of actual sound effects and even versions of music from the games themselves. The one major exception, and a stupid one at that, was Mega Man, as Capcom (the company that makes it), while allowing the characters, for some dumbass reason didn't allow them to use official sounds or music from the Mega Man games (which is a goddamn shame). But otherwise, the games were well represented. While there were some weird things, such as (if you look at the picture a ways up) how goofy the artists made Elecman (Robot Master from Mega Man) look, as a video game fan growing up, Captain N was a wonderful show, and a great compliment to the Mario shows. In the second season a couple of new heroes were introduced, one being Princess Lana's brother Lyle, who didn't feel like much of a hero and had left the palace to go live in Tetrisland, and the main one was Game Boy, literally a sentient Game Boy console sent to help the heroes by Lana's father King Charles, who had been abducted and exiled to the "Mirror Zone" by Mother Brain before the show's storyline began.

To the Rescue!

The show lasted for 3 seasons, the second of which was paired with "The Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3", and the third season paired with the "Super Mario World" cartoon. The first two seasons were very strong, in my humble opinion, with great stories and game appearances, but much like the Mario World cartoon, the third season of Captain N also just felt sup-par. Not BAD, by any means, still entertaining. But it definitely felt like a decline, which was really too bad. Part of this was due to NBC cutting the budget for the Saturday morning lineup, as their corporate stiffs were trying to move away from cartoons (because they suck). Because of that, the animation was lesser quality, and they even had several episodes that left out Simon Belmont and Mega Man, simply because they didn't want to pay Konami and Capcom (the game publishers) royalties. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of corporate bullshit that can and does ruin great stuff like this.

She sure is...

 Outside of the cartoon itself, Valiant Comics also put out several Captain N comic books as part of their "Nintendo Comic System" series. The comics were very close to the cartoon, with a few major exceptions. One being that Princess Lana had a bit more of an active role, using a magical Power Staff that she didn't actually use (but was featured with in promotional art) in the show, so she more actively fought in battles instead of just directing the heroes (or sometimes having to be rescued) in the cartoon. The other, bigger change, was (again to avoid royalties) the fact that the comics didn't feature any "third party" (meaning not made by Nintendo) characters, so Simon Belmont and Mega Man were absent. Instead, the comic did feature a couple of stories based on Metroid, in which the hero Samus Aran showed up to help fight her nemesis Mother Brain. These were cool appearances, as Samus for whatever reason had not been featured in the cartoon (even though the heroes had to go to "Metroid" a couple of times). I do believe this might have also been the first example of Samus actually talking and showing more of a character, which in these comics was more of a semi-ruthless (but still "heart of gold") bounty hunter, who happened to have the hots for Kevin. In general, the Captain N comics, similar to the Zelda comics, had a slightly darker, certainly less comical tone than the cartoons did, and honestly featured some great writing and stories. I'll have to write an entry dedicated completely to those "Nintendo Comic System" comics, because they were awesome.

From a personal perspective Captain N, along with the Mario cartoons, was a huge part of my childhood. As much as I loved video games, and my NES in particular, it was just mind blowing to have a cartoon about a guy who got to go and be a hero IN these video game worlds. There are certain things I've heard some people nitpick about, such as Mega Man being green, or Simon Belmont being a self-absorbed goof (though to be fair, he still has his bad ass moments). But really, I didn't care about that shit as a kid, and still really don't, because to me, it was just quality entertainment. My biggest cartoon "crush" in my later (almost adolescence) childhood in the early 90s, was of course the X-Men, but Captain N was absolutely right up there with it. It's a very good show, with tons of nostalgia, genuinely funny moments, and a few surprisingly cool stories "for a kid's cartoon" to boot. For anyone who is a fan of Nintendo, video games, or cartoons, I'd highly suggest checking it out. The first two seasons are on DVD, while the third can be found bundled with the Super Mario World cartoon. Hunt 'em down, and enjoy!