Monday, June 13, 2005

"5 Great Games You've Probably Never Played"

Even with video games having been in the mainstream for a while now, there are still some gems out there that few have had the pleasure of playing. As with the music and movie industry, a lot of great games simply fly under the radar. Sometimes a great game gets made for a dead system that either never got off the ground or was at the end of its life. Really awesome import-only games, mostly from Japan, often times don't get ported to the U.S. because no one thinks they'll sell. And sometimes, you just have to be old enough (30+) to remember some of the long forgotten classics!

Let's take a look at five such games:

Name: Badlands [1984]

I reckon this here's the best laserdisc game ever.

System(s): Arcade

Reason you never played it:
Badlands came out right in the middle of the video game crash in 1984. Chances are slim that this laserdisc game made it to your local arcade (if you still had one by 1984.)

Why you should play it:
To be honest, I'm not sure that you can play this game anymore. I don't think this game was ever ported to any system. It was a laserdisc game, but one no where near as popular as Dragon's Lair or Space Ace. So, not a lot of people played it, and since games like Dragon's Lair rely on nostalgia to sell, chances are slim that someone will make the simple port over to DVD or one of the current generation systems. I was lucky enough to have this in my local movie theater arcade, but I was so young that I never was able to finish it.

Badlands is basically the coolest laser disc game ever. It's set in the old west, and the tone of the game seems almost serious. Buck, the protagonist you play as, narrates the opening scene of the game: "We were livin' a quiet life, when one day for no reason my wife and my children were killed in cold blood! And I was wounded, unable to help. Why this? Why US? Why? I won't let them get away with it. I'll get every last one of 'em!" Wow, how much cooler is that than chasing down a dumb old dragon? You're attacked by bad guys who burn down your house and kill your family? Damn. That is cold. The bad guys did make one fatal mistake, though... they left you alive.

You wander around the old west hunting these bad guys down. Collecting bounty on their heads as you progress. There are classic settings such as saloons and showdowns in the middle of town. However, there is a reason why I said it the tone of the game seems almost serious. Everytime you die, you die in hilarious ways: a scorpion jumps up and gives you a mohawk haircut, a rattlesnake wraps up your horses legs and it trips, you get smoked and served up on a giant plate. And I haven't even mentioned the level where you end up in a dinosaur infested jungle. Very strange.

The control is also very unique. Yes, control, as in singular. We're talking a single, huge, red button. No gun or joystick here. All you do is wait for the right time, and press it to shoot. But it's not as easy as it sounds. You have to be careful because if you shoot too early or when there is no visible threat, you end up being hanged. If you shoot too late, you're swiss cheese. And this game really keeps you on your toes. The scenes that play out the story aren't always the same. For example, in one scene you walk into the saloon, mosey on up to the bar, and the bartender reaches under the counter. Sometimes he pulls out a whisky, and sometimes he pulls out a gun and shoots you. So you gotta be quick on the draw!

If you ever see this game in an arcade, I recommend that you spend the $10 or so to finish it because it's unlikely you'll ever see that game again. If you know of a console or emulated version, let me know!

Ouch. That's gotta hurt.

I looove it, Reynaldo. It's simply faaabulous!

It was a dark and stormy night...

Tayshaun Prince at Halloween.

Name: Earthbound 0 [1990]

Yes, the 'zero' was added by the ROM dumpers.

System(s): NES

Reason you never played it:
For one, it was never officially released in the US. However, Earthbound 0 is not an import. It's a translated version of "Mother" for the Japanese Famicom (NES) done by Nintendo themselves. Read below for more on this bizarre tale.

Why you should play it:
The short of it is that Earthbound 0 is the unreleased (in the U.S.) prequel to the fantastic Earthbound RPG for the SNES, and therefore it can only be played via an NES emulator. The long of it actually quite interesting.

In Japan, Nintendo released a game called Mother for the Nintendo Famicom (equivalent to the US NES) in 1989. It was an RPG unlike any other. You played as a little boy living in a suburb of modern day city. You carried around your items in your backpack. You called home via telephone to save your game. You used weapons like baseball bats, slingshots and frying pans on enemies like hippies and stray dogs. It was a refreshing change from the dungeons and dragons-like fantastical settings that dominate this genre even today.

That's not to say that the game isn't rooted in the console RPG. You still stay in hotels, eat food to regain health and have a form of magic, known as PSI powers, available to some characters. In fact, a good portion of the enemies are alien type creatures. After all, your adventure revolves around investigating weird, paranormal acitivity that seems to have affected your town.

So this is all well and good, but if this is such a great game, why wasn't it ever released? The story goes that Nintendo of America actually did have the intention of releasing this game in the U.S. They even had it translated, and other than the packaging, the game was pretty much complete by September of 1990. But even with the U.S. prototype cartridge in hand, NoA simply felt that the timing wasn't right to sink money into releasing an RPG since they weren't very popular in U.S. So, due to a marketing decision, Nintendo of America sat on one of the greatest NES games of all time.

In the end, someone, somehow, ended up sneaking the prototype cartridge out. It made its way into a few collector's hands, and the game ROM was eventually dumped onto a PC. There's a lot more to this story, and if you have some time to kill, you should read more about it here
Something strange... in your neighborhood.

Podunk, USA.

I lied, there is a dragon.

OK, and a robot.

Name: Gal's Panic (series) [1990-1999]

Original Title Screen Action!

System(s): Arcade, Sega Saturn

Reason you never played it:
This series was only officially released into Japanese arcades. Although, sometimes you can find local arcades that imported this strange game. Le Fun in Austin, Tx used to have a Gal's Panic machine, and they might still.

Why you should play it:
First, a history lesson, as most of you probably don't remember Qix. Qix was an old (1981) arcade game where you controlled a pointer on the screen that drew lines. The point of the game was to draw solid boxes without the pointer getting touched by bad guys floating around the screen. When you'd complete a box, the boxed in area would turn a different color and you ate up a certain percentage of the screen. After you'd completed a certain percentage, you'd clear the screen and try again on a fresh screen with faster enemies. Now, imagine Strip Qix. That's Gal's Panic.

The premise is the same: guide your drawing pointer thing across the screen without getting caught by the bad guys. The twist is that there is a silhoutte of a young (when aren't they young?) girl in the background. As you enclose areas of the screen with your line maker thingy, the enclosed areas you've created uncover a portion of the fair maiden. If you uncovered a high enough percentage of her silhoutte, the screen would clear and you could see her entire, usually sexually charged, body.

In later versions of the game, you can enclose bonus items like a telephone icon that would give you her phone number (bonus points) or powerups that made your drawing thingy faster. Also, in later versions of the game, you could earn short animation sequences of the girl partially nude if you completed her silhoutte 100%.

Overall, this is a pretty fun game, even without the scantily clad (and occasionally nude) women... I mean, young girls. The reason this game is on this list rather than Qix, is because the later versions of Gal's Panic actually play a lot better than Qix does. In Gal's Panic S2 you aren't limited to 90 degree lines like you were in Qix. I'm serious, it had nothing to do with the girlies. Really.

Ugh. Do I have to?

Gameplay on version S2.

You've degraded me 100%. Congratulation! Go to next area.

Ayaah. Silly me, I fell. ^_^

Name: Herzog Zwei [1989]

System(s): Sega Genesis

I prefer hard techno, personally.

Reason you never played it:
You were too busy playing your NES, and they never made a Herzog Zwei cartoon series or breakfast cereal. Plus, it was a real-time strategy game and nobody knew wtf that was back in '89.

Why you should play it:
You don't have to be an RTS fan to appreciate this game. The thing that gets most people about RTS games is that they're too fucking complicated. I mean, I'm not saying every game has to play like Pong, but there is something to be said about simplicity.

Being an RTS, the game is unsuprisingly played from a top-down perspective. But surprisingly, you control a huge transformer general. You can switch from a jet figther looking thing to a giant walking robot and back at will. Kinda like Starscream, but without all the whining. Ulimately, you want to destroy the enemy HQ which has a fighting-game-esque non-regenerating life bar. You proceed to build units to take over and defend the minibases sprawled out across the map. The more bases you control, the more money you make per second. And that means, guess what? You can make more units. Up to 50 per side. If you don't suck, you'll start to move in on the enemy HQ and eventually beat it down.

The units are all ground units, and there aren't very many of them. The basic unit, the infantry unit, is the only type of unit that can take over minibases. It's also the only unit that can climb over mountains and cliffs. Infantry are easy to kill, but absolutely necessary. Then you have your tanks. They're really the only way to damage the enemy HQ. Other than the boats, which act as tanks on the water levels, those are the two units you'll use the most. There are also motorcycles and armored cars, but they're mostly just used as decoys. On the defense/support side, you have a missle launcher, which only attacks the enemy commander. It's more useful than you might think. And then you have the huge turrents, which are expensive, slow to build, and tougher than any other unit on the map. Turrets fire huge guns and missles. You'll be using these quite a bit too. Finally we have refueling truck that keeps all your nearby units stocked with ammo and fuel.

The levels are pretty well thought out and offer wildly different game play experiences. With 8 different planets (maps), you'll have to deal with different terrains like the ice world where your units slip'n'slide all over the place, the volcanic world where there are rivers of lava that damage your units, and a water world where the majority of your forces will be boats and you'll be fighting island warfare. Good stuff.

Overall, it's just a fun game, especially in two player split-screen mode. I've always thought there should have been a sequel on the genesis, but I also think that the time for a sequel has definitely passed. If they made one now, it'd be overly complicated and in full 3D. That would totally kill the very thing that made Herzog Zwei fun.

Muliplayer Action! Oh, Yeah!

Incoming missle!


If you see this, buy it.

Name: Parodius (Series) [1989 - 1996]

Translation: Parodius! - Seriously, It Says That –

System(s): Arcade, Super Famicom, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Gameboy, PC Engine

Reason you never played it:
Parodius games are import-only. It's a very popular series in Japan. But despite all the platforms to which it's been ported, and all the different sequels and versions, there has never been an official U.S. release. See below.

Why you should play it:
Parodius is a Parody of the well known Konami shooter Gradius, hence, the clever name. It plays pretty much like Gradius with a bizarre twist that only the Japanese could concoct.

For starters, you get to choose your ship from a list of oddball choices: would you like to go with the traditional Vic Viper (the Gradius ship), or maybe a stickman riding a paper airplane, or a Playboy Bunny girl riding a torpedo, or how about you get animalistic and go with a Penguin with an umbrella or an angel pig complete with a halo and wings? That's just a sampling, too. There are many more 'ships' to choose from, but you get the idea. And as unique as the ships are, the enemies you encounter are even more strange. How about shooting down some Easter Island heads, teddy bears hanging from hot air ballons, or fish skeletons?
The bosses? Even better!: a giant Las Vegas Showgirl that takes up the entire screen, a Pirate Kitten with 6 legs which act as oars to its pirate ship body, a HUGE mermaid with a nice set of ta-tas, and a Giant Bald Eagle dressed up in Uncle Sam garb.

The powerup system is great too. The powerups are in the form of bells that change color when you shoot them. Certain colors have certain powers. One of my favorite powerups is the White Bell. When you grab a White Bell, your ship gets a megaphone and shouts japanese phrases at your enemies. The phrases are spelled out in a long line of characters spouting from your megaphone. Anything the phrase touches, dies. Simply perfect.

So if this game is so good and had so many sequels and ports, why was it never ported to the US? Well, to put it mildly, the game is very Japanese. It relies heavily on Japanese cultural icons like sumos, public bath houses, crane games, and mythical japanese creatures. A lot of that stuff just wouldn't translate well. And in addition to the general "Americans won't get it." reason, Parodius games have some pretty un-politically correct elements like the aforementioned shooting down of the American Bald Eagle. Throw in a female Easter Island head boss that shoots long phallic torpedos slowly from its mouth, and Playboy Bunny girls riding torpedos and, yeah, that game is never coming to the U.S.

The bottom line is that all these crazy things makes a great game like Gradius even better. Even if you don't get the cultural references, you can still laugh at how fucked up the Japanese are. It's fun to progress to the next area just to see what kind of crazy-ass boss they've got waiting for you there. If you throw in a "spot the overt sexual reference" drinking game, there might not be a better way to spend an evening. So, yeah, if you like shooters, you owe it to yourself to play this game. It's a colorful, demented romp through the pysche of a male japanese gamer on acid.


Hot Megaphone Action!

You don't even want to know what's going on here.

Hey, I'm offended!


forrest said...

my quick opinion:
shadowrun for the snes (genesis version sucked)
master of magic for the pc - most fun I've ever had playing a turn-based strategy game
I also have very fond memories of Aerobiz for the snes

sorry I couldn't elaborate

these games could be considered smalltime

Anonymous said...

I have played Herzog Zwei back in my day, good game. Other little diddy's that I liked, some I'm sure you may have played:

Blaster Master - pw0wn3d!
R-Type (original)
Skate or Die
Kid Icarus

bah my memory fails me...

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, good one, Shadowrun rocked also, left that off my list - Paul

Katsu said...

1) I didn't think anybody every played Aerobiz for SNES other than my friend and I. That game was great. I thought it was ruined a bit by the complexity of the sequel, Aeorbiz Supersonic. Don't know if you tried that one.

2) Master of Monsters for Genesis rocks. Zor recently brought it over. Don't know of its related to Master of Magic.

3) Shadowrun for SNES was really good, but I think a lot of people played that one. As did they play Blaster Master, Rygar, R-Type Skate or Die (1 and 2) and Kid Icarus. I was trying to point out games that most people haven't played, not popular old games. ;)

Anonymous said...

Not to taint your list, I just could not remember any really "odd" games that I know I played that were not mainstream. For the most part I was like 8-10 during the early days and if the "PX" or Wal-Mart did not have it, I did not play it at home. At the arcades it was Street Fighter and nothing else. (Who on their right mind would spend their quarters on games they did not know if they were fun or not - excluding Bionic Commando, SpyHunter and Gauntlet) -Paul

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