Friday, April 26, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Mighty Final Fight

A version of this review was originally posted as part of the "Review a Great Game Day" event, hosted by the good folks at, which took place on April 8th, 2013. Be sure to check it out, as there were lots of great reviews by my contemporaries, as well as a few simply avid gamers!

"Feel the hi-top of Justice!"

 The Nintendo Entertainment System certainly had a rather wide variety of game types during it's 10 year existence. From platformers, to action games, to shooters, to puzzle games, sports games, role playing games, you name it. But the one genre we're here to talk about today is a fine little slice of gaming known as the "Beat 'em Up". What defines a "Beat 'em Up", as opposed to a "Fighting Game", is that in fighters, your objective is to beat the snot out of the guy across the screen from you, and the person who takes the most rounds wins. But in a "Beat 'em Up", the objective is to beat the snot out of every single thing that moves on the screen, and to do so until you beat all the bad guys in every single level, and finally save the day. So in other words it's the difference between a Mohammed Ali fight, and a Jackie Chan film. The NES had it's share of this fine genre, which enjoyed it's "boom" period in the late 80's and early 90s. Double Dragon, Renegade, River City Ransom, Toxic Crusaders, and of course Battletoads all graced the classic console. But I'm here today to tell you about one such game, released late in the NES' life, years after the Super NES had launched, that may have gotten passed over by many. I'm here to correct that, because it just might be the best of the bunch....

Back when almost everything Capcom made was gold.....

Most gamers worth their salt know that the first game to truly establish the conventions of the genre known as the "Beat 'Em Up", was 1987's Double Dragon. Developed by Technos, DD became an arcade smash hit that spawned a franchise, and the rest is history. Most gamers worth their salt are ALSO aware of the fact that while Double Dragon started it, another game that came along in 1989, pretty much perfected it. And that would be Capcom's Final Fight. Originally meant to be a semi-follow up to their first (and terribly obscure) Street Fighter game, this classic was originally going to be called "Street Fighter '89". But once they realized it had really nothing to do with their first foray into one-on-one fighting, they renamed it "Final Fight", and it was off to the races.

Now, Final Fight was an amazing arcade game, which received a very good port for Super Nintendo, and believe it or not even a solid one for Sega CD. The game was also popular enough to spawn two SNES only sequels, which saw it change characters, but kept the overall look and feel. WELL, around the same time that FF2 came out in 1993, another little known gem also released, for the by then fading-but-still-awesome original NES. And that game, was called "Mighty Final Fight". Mighty Final Fight is a strange but wonderful beast. It is a fairly comical retake on the arcade original, complete with "chibi" (small, cartoony) versions of the main characters and enemies, and a goofier feel over all. But with the goofieness also came something that most wouldn't expect, especially out of an NES "port", and that is the fact that while the SNES version was a great game although lacking 2-player, this NES "remake" was actually superior in a lot of ways, even to the arcade original.

The arcade lineup, as seen in the Sega CD version.

The lineup as seen in the NES. Notice the differing art styles.

For one thing, unlike the better known SNES port, where you could only play characters Cody and Mike Haggar for some strange reason, in MFF you get to choose between all three from the arcade, which includes the ninja characer Guy. Like the SNES version, MFF is only single player, but honestly, that's small potatoes compared to what they added to the game. Not only does the overall action feel even "meatier" with a superior sense of hit detection, but Capcom also took a page out of the NES port of Double Dragon's book, and added an rpg like element wherein your character gains experience for every baddie he thrashes, and eventually you "level up", with each level unlocking new and cooler attacks, as well as extending your life bar.

The game's first boss, "Damnd", also known as Thrasher.

Thrasher as seen in the NES version. Aren't they adorable?

The game also includes most of the content from the original, though it only has 5 stages instead of the arcade's six, in this case missing the "Subway" area. That aside, it's got everything the arcade did with a bit more besides, and beyond that, even has one hell of a bad ass 8-bit soundtrack. And again, the soundtrack is arguably superior to the arcade or even SNES versions. All around, Mighty Final Fight is one hell of a game, loads of fun, and a perfect example of why the NES lasted an amazing 10 years in North America, because up through 1994 it kept getting sprinklings of high quality games such as this. In fact, 1993 was a huge year for the ol' NES all around, as it not only got Mighty Final Fight, it also saw the releases of games like Kid Klown, Zen the Intergalactic Ninja, Duck Tales 2, Battletoads & Double Dragon, and of course Kirby's Adventure.

An example of the upgraded moves you get with each level, in this case Cody's uppercut.

Haggar performing his spinning double lariat! He's a mayor who means business!

So there you have it folks! If you haven't ever gotten a chance to get your hands on this true "Beat 'Em Up" classic, or haven't even ever heard of it until now, please do yourself a huge favor and do so.You really can't do much better in it's genre, and as far as I'm personally concerned, it's one of the greatest games ever crafted. So fire this bad boy up, and have a great skull-knocking time, on me! Cheers!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Kid Klown

Welcome back to another look into gaming's obscure, but awesome, past. Today's exhibit? A little known NES gem entitled "Kid Klown in Night Mayor World". Developed and published by Japanese studio Kemco, the company that brought such NES classics as Spy vs. Spy, Deja Vu, Shadowgate, and the Bugs Bunny games, this title, like certain others (Super Mario Bros. 2, Yo Noid!), started out as somewhat of a different beast. Originally titled "Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen" (Mickey Mouse III: Balloon Dreams),  it was essentially the same game, only part of a Mickey Mouse series of games. In fact, this game was called "Mickey Mouse III" in Japan because they had done this before, with what Americans know as Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle. Crazy Castle originally featured Roger Rabbit in Japan, but they later made a version with Mickey Mouse after losing the rights, along with the Bugs Bunny version for the states. The Game Boy versions of Crazy Castle 1 and 2 are known as Mickey Mouse I and Mickey Mouse II in Japan, hence this game was somehow the third in that series. Confused yet? Well that's okay, because Kemco would continue the series as Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle in the states, until Crazy Castle 5 for the Game Boy Advance, which wound up starring Woody Woodpecker. For those counting along at home, that makes 4 different characters from 3 different animation studios (Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal) that Kemco had to license from. But hey, the series DID see a total of 10 releases (at least in Japan, one of which was made into a Real Ghostbusters game in NA and a Garfield game in Europe, if you can grasp that), so I suppose ultimately it paid off right?

Mouse? Clown? Fun game either way.

ANYWAYS, disregarding the somewhat messy (but intriguing) history of the series that the original Japanese version originated from, what WE here in the U.S.of A got, was a peculiar, but fun, game called Kid Klown. The original Mickey game was released in Japan in 1992. Our version with the righteous Klown dude (first name Kid), arrived in April 1993, what happened to be a very good year for the NES (Kirby's Adventure anyone?). So, focusing on OUR version here today, the setting sees a family of clowns traveling with their circus, when they run across a mysterious magician named Night Mayor. I want to take a moment, first off, to comment on the fact that the pun-name NIGHT MAYOR is, in my humble opinion, fucking fantastic. It's just the right amount of cheese to tickle my "Man That's Awesome" bone. So, as you might surmise given his name (and his nefarious mustache), Night Mayor is up to no good, and he asks Kid to help him open a magical treasure vault. Kid, having been warned NEVER to talk to strange and creepy magicians out on the highway at night by his wise and loving parents, basically tells Mr. Mayor to "piss off". So, in a fit of indignation, said bad fellow uses his wicked magic to kidnap the Klown family, and challenges Kid to follow and find them, if he ever wants to see them again. And thus it's off to the races we go!

NEVER trust people with top hats on rainy nights!

If you hadn't noticed by now, I'll reveal the silly pun. Night Mayor = Nightmare! Get it? Awesome right? Indeed. Moving on!

Different name, same great balloon taste!

So as far as the game proper is concerned, here's the scoop. You've got yourself six major areas (plus the opening level), each one having a different theme. I can definitely see how in the Mickey version, you were traveling through some kind of magical dream world. But it fits with a kooky game where you play a balloon-wielding clown fighting a guy named Night Mayor as well! The thing that stands out about this game the most, of course, is in fact said balloons. The graphics are solid (in fact there's some very inventive sprite effects at points), and the soundtrack is cheery if not unremarkable. But where the game enters the "kicks ass" arena, is in the gameplay. Why it kicks is, is because Kemco really did a number on inventing balloon mechanics the player can employ. In no particular order, you can use these inflated bags of fun as: weapons, a means of floating for longer jumps, a platform to bounce off of performing high jumps, a shield from certain enemy attacks, etc. Talk about versatile. And it doesn't end there. You can aim balloon fire directly overhead, as well as choosing to toss short-range balloons, or hold the B button down to throw them further. And of course you can even drop the balloons straight down, as a weapon or a platform to jump to higher places, or you can even just hold it out in front of you like a shield. If you ask me, that's pretty damn ingenious, especially for the 8-bit era, not to mention the fact that I don't think I've ever really seen a similar set up in any other game I've ever played. So Kemco deserves major kudos for really taking the Mario "run and jump" platforming standard, but making it their own.

Some of the cheeriest, most harmless looking, most devious levels you'll ever face in gaming.

The other area that this game really stands out, for anyone who has ever played it, is that while on the surface it seems very much like an "easy kids' game", it also packs some serious punch in the difficulty department in a few areas once you get deeper in. The different areas include a charming forest, a crazy toy factory, a giant beanstalk land complete with an evil Cyclops giant at the end, a land of snow and ice, a stage made up of living (and dangerous) candies and pastries, and finally Night Mayor's gigantic castle. The game really does ramp it up the further you get, as well. I just recently played through it again myself, and god damn, there are some parts that'll make you cuss out the game like nobodies business. For instance, in Stage 3, the beanstalk stage, you have to climb vertically, but are bombarded while doing so by swarms of enemies that include among other annoyances, evil clouds that shit lightning all over you. Then you've got Stage 4, with it's slippery ice, but worse yet, snow drifts that you actually get stuck in, which makes getting across super fun, while being attacked by enemies. and then of course, there's Castle Night Mayor, which takes the SMB1 concept of having a maze-like castle with plenty of wrong ways to go, and cranks it up to 11, by having doors that make you fight previous bosses, doors that take you right back to the beginning of an area you just got through, or even all the way back to the beginning of the castle. And unlike Bowser's final castle in that hallowed NES standard, Night Mayor is more of a dick, so his castle is bigger, with plenty of genuinely fucked up moments, most especially the final area, which is a room of doors which, you guessed it, all but one lead you to other areas, including the very damn beginning of the level. So have fun choosing the wrong door several times (unless of course you CHEAT and use the internet).

Cute, innocent looking, but oh so evil.

All in all, this game is well worth playing in my expert opinion. It controls well, is fun to play thanks to the inventive balloon mechanics, has a lot of replay value in spite of a few throw-your-controller moments, and the game just honestly exudes fun. From the gameplay, to the level design, right down to the carnival-like minigame between stages that allows you to throw balloons at targets to gain back health, 1up, etc. Plus, as I've already mentioned, the bad guy's name is NIGHT MAYOR, and that right there should be worth the price of admission. The game actually turned into a series, but the SNES and PS1 entries, for instance, were weird "always moving" games that saw Kid on a rolling ball, rolling and dodging through levels. None of them showed the same cool gameplay mechanics or sense of fun-ness the original had, so in my personal view they're really not all that worth checking out.

But do yourself a favor, and get your hands on a cart of the NES original if you can, or find "other" means to play it if you have to, but play it. Or else the Night Mayor will give you.......unpleasant dreams!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Silver Screen Stories: The 27th Day

You just don't see awesome hand drawn movie art like this anymore....

Much like the countless classic video games that most people have likely never heard of, so too exist countless classic movies, many of which are truly great, that people aren't but should be made aware of. So naturally I'll be taking it upon myself to turn you all onto those over time as well. One such movie is a fairly obscure number called "The 27th Day". One of many classic films that I unfortunately never saw growing up and knew nothing about until well into my adulthood, I had the distinct pleasure of learning about this little gem through the wonders of Turner Classic Movies (THE best channel on television). While I tend to get enjoyment out of most classic horror, fantasy or science fiction movies, there are some that rise above the cliches and tropes of their genres, and genuinely surprise you with depth and substance.

Ominous title. Misleading (but awesome) movie poster. What's going on here?

Released in 1957 (a VERY popular year for sci fi films), "The 27th Day" was the creation of one John Mantley, most famous for his work with the classic television show "Gunsmoke", who wrote both the original story it was based on, as well as the screenplay adaptation. It was produced, in a rare instance back in those days, by a woman, Helen Ainsworth, an actress who also acted as an agent and produced several films, and it was directed by William Asher. The movie stars Gene Barry (from the 1953 War of the Worlds), Valerie French and Arnold Moss. 

In a nutshell, the story starts with 5 citizens of the world, an American reporter (Barry), an English woman (French), a Chinese peasant, a German physicist, and a Russian solider, being suddenly taken from their daily lives and placed aboard an alien spacecraft. There they are met by a mysterious stranger (Moss), who refers to himself only as "The Alien", who proceeds to present them with a fantastic story, and an even more fantastic and unbelievable opportunity. "The Alien" represents a race whose planet's sun is soon to go nova, and thus they must find a new world to inhabit very soon. They have chosen Earth, but their strict moral code does not allow them to simply move in and kill the humans, so instead they have devised a plan. They will give each of the 5 citizens a box, that only their brainwaves can open, and in each box is contained 3 small capsules, which individually have enough power to wipe out every human life within a 3000 mile radius. The catch is, that while they fully expect, given what they've seen of human history, that the humans will use the capsules to destroy each other, thus leaving the Earth open for new tenants, the humans also have the choice to NOT use such power, in which case after 27 days the capsules will become inert and useless, forcing the Aliens to find someplace else to move to.

"All the power in the world. What would you do with it?"

Sufficed to say, not exactly the setup that the movie poster implies, is it? Alien Invasion movies were big hits in the 1950s, so the studio (in this case Columbia Pictures) obviously thought they'd make more money promoting it as such. Kind of like "The Day the Earth Stood Still", I assume. While this film had a very small budget (the flying saucer clip is taken right out of "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers"), it makes up for it in good plot, good acting, and a nice sense of human drama. The 5 humans are of course set back in their home countries, with 27 days to play out whether or not humanity will use these weapons of destruction. Not to spoil too much, but the women in this story turn out to make the right decision before anyone, as Evelyn (the Englishwoman) throws her box in the English Channel immediately upon arrival back to Earth, and Su Tan (the Chinese peasant girl) chooses to kill herself instead of allowing anyone to get their hands on her capsules. That of course leaves the three men still in possession of theirs, and thus the movie goes. The film is surprising, again for it's time (considering McCarthyist bullshit of the day, the Cold War, etc.), in that it depicts the Russian and Chinese characters as having just as much moral fiber and humanity as thier "Western" counterparts, with Su Tan dramatically taking her own life to avert destruction, and Communist Russian soldier Ivan Godofsky bravely refusing to tell his superiors about the weapon.

To make matters worse, "The Alien" soon announces to the entire world not only that the capsules exist and what they can do, but even points out exactly who has them. Godofsky's superiors torture him and eventually get him to open his box, while the American Johnathan Clark and the German scientist Klaus Bechner are persuaded to work with the American government to try and prevent the Russians' inevitable attack. So the story goes, and while I don't want to spoil the ending, I will just say that all in all it's a very compelling and brilliantly executed film.

I would highly suggest anyone to watch it, whether they're a fan of classic science fiction or not. It's a great movie, and one of the rare ones that is not only entertaining but makes you think. So if you can, find a way to watch it, and enjoy!