Back in the technologically impaired '80s and early '90s, arcades were the only way to get the complete gaming experience.

BABY PAC-MAN

BALLY (MOST CERTAINLY NOT NAMCO)
MAZE/PINBALL

  

As Pac-Man fans, we've had to suffer a lot of disappointments over the past twenty years.  This pinball/video game hybrid was among the worst of the bunch.  Baby Pac-Man could have been as much a classic as its big brothers and sisters... its integration of two unique gaming experiences had the potential to offer players something new and immensely enjoyable.  In fact, if Baby Pac-Man had caught on- I mean, really caught on, the way the first game in the series had- it could have inseperably bonded video games and pinball together, changing the direction of the arcade industry and making game consoles impractical and obsolete.

Of course, there was no threat of THAT happening, because Bally slapped Baby Pac-Man together with the cheapest parts and the most incompetant designers they could find.  It's awful as a video game because Namco had absolutely nothing to do with its creation, and because Bally used outdated legacy hardware that drains all the vibrance from Pac-Man's traditionally bright graphics.  It's just as miserable as a pinball game because the playfield is very short and almost completely barren... there are no bumpers, no ramps, and no distinctive playfield objects that give the game its own identity and legitimize its use of the Pac-Man license.  No matter how well you integrate two lousy games, you're going to wind up with an inferior product, and there's no better way to describe Baby Pac-Man than to call it inferior.

If this bastard child of the Pac-Man family has any ambition at all, it's to make the player very, very angry.  It accomplishes this goal with ease thanks to the monsters in the video game, which completely disregard every law of behavior Namco established in the previous Pac-Man games.  They don't run to their home quadrants after leaving their hideout, and they often backtrack over their own steps, cornering any player foolish enough to assume that this is a REAL Pac-Man game and that the monsters will act accordingly.  If you think you'll be able to use patterns to excel at this game, think again.  In fact, forget about finishing the round without getting caught, 'cuz that ain't happening, either.

Your only escape from certain death at the hands of the infuriating monsters is to use the portals at the bottom of the screen to drop Baby Pac-Man into the pinball game.  Just be warned that your survival will be temporary... the playfield is so barren that your ball will slip through your paddles like sand through your fingers in a matter of seconds.  Once that happens, your poor little baby will be locked into the maze with no hope of escape and a quartet of hungry, completely unpredictable monsters hot on his trail.  If you were lucky enough to hit the loop ball at the top of the pinball playfield, or spell the word "Pac-Man" by repeatedly hitting the panels between that loop, you'll earn energizers which let you give the monsters some much-deserved payback.  Unfortunately, you'll lose those power pills if the monsters catch you, and even if you do reach them, they don't guarantee your safety for long.  The blue time each energizer grants you is barely enough to get you to the opposite corner of the screen, where another power-up may (but probably won't) await you.

Because the odds are so heavily stacked against you, your games of Baby Pac-Man won't last long.  It's a truly impressive feat to clear the first screen without losing any lives.  However, you probably won't feel too cheated if your game lasts a couple of minutes, because that means you can quit and play one of the many great Pac-Man games created by Namco.  If they had been responsible for this one, you can bet that it would have been special too.  However, Baby Pac-Man is nothing more than another desperate attempt by Bally to wring money from the popular series... and because of this, they passed up an opportunity to revive the industry and ultimately change our very definition of video games.

CRAZY TAXI

SEGA (HITMAKER)
DRIVING

 

The best game of 1999... period. I mean, really... there were all these crazy driving game released recently... Carmageddon, Grant Theft Auto, Twisted Metal, and, of course, Mr. Ed Gets Drunk. And while most of these games were fun little spectacles, for a little while, they all truly were shitty games in and of themselves. That's not so with Crazy Taxi... this is a WELL-PRODUCED, fun game that provides MONTHS of addictive play. You're a cab driver, and your job is to pick up customers and drop them off as QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. You have to move quickly to make a lot of money and earn a higher-class license. The only way to do this is to forget about following the rules of the road, take shortcuts wherever possible, such as through the park, and to learn shifting techniques that'll make your car move completely differently than how an actual vehicle would. Here's where the game is a little weird. Sega doesn't list any of the speed up moves on the console; you have to go to the internet or elsewhere to learn them, so because of this, a lot of players may find it literally impossible to get anything above a C class license. I have a hunch that Sega did that because players like me who DO know the moves can be sitting at the console for over an hour on one game. ^^; The game is pretty vast, needless to say. Did I mention it's hellishly fun? I mean, literally. This fucking machine has probably drained enough money from me to buy a mail-order bride... plus an expanded version will be out soon for the Dreamcast, leaving me with no choice but to buy that and a steering wheel controller for the DC.

DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION

KONAMI
DANCING

 

BeatMania was a game by Konami where a song is played and the player has to hit certain keys in conjunction with the tune. It existed well before the Playstation game Bust a Groove premiered, so to call one of its 5 billion spinoffs, Dance Dance Revolution, a ripoff of Bust a Groove would be a little unfair. DDR is actually a game that combines the formulas of BeMani and Bust a Groove. Like with BAG, 1 or 2 CG rendered dancers appear on the screen and dance well or poorly depending on how well the player follws the button pattern. But the patterns are more similar to BeMani than they are to BAG, and you don't use your hands, you use your FEET. The fatal flaw BAG had was that it was a dancing game that didn't really involve DANCING, and DDR fixed this problem by making the players input their moves through four large buttons on the ground. The result, or course, is a tough game that makes its players look like complete idiots. But it's a lot of fun. This game has been released in about 5 or 6 arcades nationwide, and the soundtract of the US version has been vastly reduced when compared to the original Japanese version, probably due to copyrights n' shit like that... I think 7 or the original 32 DDR 2nd Mix songs were ported here ^^;... the best one being the chintzy, catchy techno tune "Butterfly" by SMILE.dk, in the opinion of this author, and apparently the people who played it at the New York New York arcade in Vegas, who would choose this song over and over and over and over again...

DODONPACHI

ATLUS (CAVE)
SHOOTER

 

I was going to have a special set of reviews celebrating the recent price reductions of the XBox and Playstation 2... but fuck that.  Most of what's available on both systems isn't especially appealing to me anyway.  It's tough these days to find games that get me excited, so an intense, overwhelming, and brilliantly designed shooter like Dodonpachi is just what the doctor ordered.  It's a shot of adrenaline injected straight into my heart, jolting my interest in video games back to life moments before it silently slips away.

If it's hard to believe that a mere vertically scrolling shooter could make me feel this way, well, I can understand your cynicism.  By the late 1990's nearly every shooter released in America had the same play mechanics, all borrowed from Raiden.  Now, Raiden was fun back in 1992, but six years and dozens of games later, its very basic gameplay wasn't very enticing.  However, the Japanese finally started to realize just how boring shooters had become and tried new ideas that added both variety and challenge to the gameplay... players could choose from several types of weapons without picking up items, and they were rewarded for taking risks that would have earned them nothing but death in Raiden or one of its many clones.  They also increased the amount of firepower and enemies- often by quite a bit- to make darned good and sure the player wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel (or more accurately, the joystick).

Some of the best shooters ever made fit the above description, but Dodonpachi is the best of the best.  Is it better than Giga Wing 2?  Indeed.  Better than Mars Matrix?  Yes, and much better looking, too.  Better than... Radiant Silvergun?  Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it is more intense, and the fact that Dodonpachi has plenty of items to pick up might make it more appealing to old school shooter fans than the comparatively barren Silvergun.  It's not as complex, but there are definitely some good ideas here.  Cave added a lot of checks and balances to the gameplay, forcing the player to make decisions quickly and often.  Yes, your laser is much more powerful than your standard spread shot, and you don't have to constantly tap the fire button to use it.  However, the excess energy consumption slows your ship down to a crawl and makes it very hard to avoid one of many, many onscreen enemies and their shots.  The type of weapon you're using also affects your smart bombs... let one drop while you're using the spread shot and all of your enemies' bullets will be transformed into stars.  However, bomb with the laser activated and you'll fire a beam that could melt a small planet.  That kind of power is a blessing when you're fighting one of the game's relentless bosses, but do you really need it against his minions?  Heck, even if you're at the boss, it's worth keeping in mind that his constant bullet sprays could be worth a whole lot of points if you're willing to prolong the fight.

All of this makes Dodonpachi fun, fun, fun... and that could have been good enough.  But hey, when you've got a good thing going, you might as well keep going and make it even better.  That's obviously what Cave was thinking when they designed the graphics and sound, because they're among the best you'll find in any shooter (pretty impressive considering that Dodonpachi is already five years old).  The game's a symphony of destruction even without background music... you'll hear almost as many explosions as you'll see bullets, and the rumble from the loudest ones hangs in the air well after the fire from defeated bosses and other large enemies fades away.  Fortunately, these explosions are accompanied by a synth metal soundtrack that makes the game even more intense.  As for the graphics, they're impressive in a variety of ways.  Filling the screen with power-ups, tanks, bullets, and huge bosses is good... but it's even better when those power-ups, tanks, bullets, and huge bosses are detailed and well animated.  Light dances across the faces of bonus items and lasers flow from your ships like water from a fountain of death.  There's constant activity not only on the screen but within each onscreen item... you really couldn't ask for more detail than that.

Does it seem like today's video games are fun to everyone but you?  Let me tell you, you're not alone.  Fortunately, you can revive your love for the hobby, or at least fondly remember what WAS good about it, with a few games of Dodonpachi.

THE FALLEN ANGELS

PSIKYO (STEEL HEART)
FIGHTING

 

Well, well... what do we have here?  It's a fighting game, and from an unlikely source.  Psikyo is primarily known for its demanding shooters, but The Fallen Angels proves that they're more than capable of branching out into other genres.  In fact, I was more impressed with this obscure Japanese release than Psikyo's better known Dreamcast games, particularly Cannon Spike and Gigawing 2.

The first thing that makes The Fallen Angels such a pleasant surprise is that it's very well designed.  It's pretty rare for game companies to make an excellent, or even playable, fighting game their first time around, but Psikyo managed to beat the odds with The Fallen Angels.  It's got fantastic, stylish animation that rivals SNK's best efforts on the Neo-Geo, and the gameplay's not too shabby, either.  It's not especially innovative, but sometimes it's better that companies new to fighting games stick with the beaten path rather than trying something new that doesn't work.

That's not to say that The Fallen Angels never forges new ground.  The gameplay may be familiar, but its visual style is noticably different from that of most other 2D fighters.  The drab, moody sepia tones in the backgrounds contrast sharply with Capcom's bright, colorful artwork in the Street Fighter series.  The characters themselves have more subtlety than Capcom's as well... rather than valiant heroes and dispicable villains, you get a cast of fighters that fall somewhere in between, including a creepy young assassin and a self-confident police officer who brings down criminals with a hand mounted rocket launcher.  This isn't necessarily excessive force when you consider that his targets include a portly Frankenstein's monster and a cackling madman with an itchy trigger finger.

With all it has going for it, you have to wonder how The Fallen Angels fell to Earth so quickly.  It was never released in American arcades, and hasn't been ported to any home game console, even though it would be right at home on the Playstation 2 and especially the Dreamcast.  Fortunately, thanks to MAME, you can still enjoy what could have been the beginning of a terrific series of fighting games.  Why Psikyo turned its back on The Fallen Angels is a mystery, but you don't have to make that same mistake.

FIGHTING VIPERS

SEGA (AM2)
3D FIGHTING

 

I must warn you that I'm NOT a big fan of tourney fighting games with polygonal graphics engines. It's my personal belief that they control poorly (Virtua Fighter 2 is an exception of sorts, but I'm too familiar with the typical fighting game set-up to really enjoy its emphasis on hand-to-hand combat), and the constant perspective changes are enough to drive me loony. I will admit that Yu Suzuki and AM2 make the best games in the genre, but that means nothing to me since titles like Fighting Vipers, as pretty as they are, are still just no fun to play.

Fighting Vipers IS pretty, though, and very innovative in the respect that the fights take place within breakable enclosures. Simply let a weak opponent have it with a charged up punch or super move, and that unlucky soul will be sent flying through the nearest wall. There's nothing quite like the rush you get from literally shattering a chain link fence with the battered body of an enemy, and this incredibly cool effect never seems to get old no matter how many times you've seen it. The characters also have armor which weakens as it's hit... do enough damage to a particular piece of armor and it breaks off in a violent display that's shown not once, not twice, but three times. You'd think this double instant reply would break up the flow of the game, but it works surprisingly well, and is a lot of fun to watch. Other than that, Fighting Vipers is your typical 3-D fighting fodder, with characters that are even flakier than those in Tekken and Soul Edge... a French maid? A skateboarding kid named Picky? What's next, Sonic and Tails? Oh, wait... they ARE getting their own 3-D fighting game, aren't they? This madness has got to end...

HOPPING MAPPY

NAMCO
ACTION

    

I recall being somewhat upset when I read the list of published games in Namco Museum and found a title called Hopping Mappy. I thought I would have loved a sequel to Mappy. I also thought I'd never get the chance to play it. But after looking around on some foreign MAME sites, I finally got the ROM, and it pains me to say that Hopping Mappy is a major disappointment.

It seems the Micro Police have finished the trampoline house investigations and moved on to a new setting... a front yard, or garden, or, uh, something. Instead of using trampolines (or simply walking), Mappy and the cats bounce around the manicured lawns on pogo sticks. Although the objectives are not clearly stated in the attract mode, there are several items which must be collected to advance to the next level. These include mice, white cats, snowpeople, and some creature who resembles Grimace from McDonald's, only brown. Each come in pairs, and may be collected together to double, triple, and quadruple their point values, just like in the original. A box appears after the first few items have been collected, and bouncing on it scatters a host of bonus items including time stops, power ups, and others. The balloon popping bonus stage is here, in a forced scrolling screen with a time limit. There is only one button, and it is used to accelerate the speed of your jumps.

The graphics are actually less detailed than those in the original. Mappy and the cats look worse than before and the backgrounds and level settings lack imagination. With so few items present, everything should be easily identifiable, but they're not (just look at Grimace!). Hopping Mappy's one saving grace is the music, which is as bouncy and upbeat as the first. Of course, it helps if you enjoyed the music in the first game.

So how could Hopping Mappy have been made better? A few suggestions: Why not have different landscapes rather than the flat, non-sloping, featureless grass? Spice things up with land mines, potholes, gophers, quicksand, or other surprises. I wouldn't mind seeing an upgrade to the pogo stick. And maybe the turbo speed up should be only available in limited quantities. Perhaps a friendly partner or two would have improved the gameplay. Why not bounce on a doghouse to alert a canine to scare away the cats? It would have been interesting to have more moving targets or perhaps bonus items on the fence or roof of the house. How about a lawnmower that threatens Mappy and the enemies? Intermissions a-la Pac-Man would have given the player more incentive to advance to higher levels.

Even though I understand that this is an older game, Namco could have done a hell of a lot better with Hopping Mappy. There is very little incentive to keep playing, and the low scoring system makes this game even less exciting. While Mappy is one of the best sleeper oldies in the Namco line up, Hopping Mappy is about as bland as they come. It may not suck really REALLY bad, but it's still uninspired, and definitely deserves the cold shoulder.

MARVEL SUPER HEROES

CAPCOM
FIGHTING

 

This game's got a lot of flaws... it's not entirely original, some of the characters are pretty lame (Captain America? Why!?), and the power-up gems usually work AGAINST the player, but in true Capcom style, it's loads of fun anyways. The super moves are incredible (check out Iron Man's shoulder cannon! Holy hernias, Batman! Whoops, wrong brand of comic...), the gameplay is solid, and some of the fighters are just soooo cool (Spider-Man and Shuma Gorath, especially. The latter makes even the cast of Darkstalkers look banal, and that's a tough act to follow!). There's not really much else to say, except that if you liked X-Men: Children of the Atom, you'll go cookoo nutty for this.

NAMCO CLASSICS COLLECTION VOL. 2

UH... NINTENDO... YEAH
ACTION

PAC-MAN:
DIG DUG, RALLY X: WHO CARES?

Yeah, I'm surprised too. Namco actually programmed a compilation of their classics for the ARCADE... and released them to almost as many arcades as Dance Dance Revolution. Included in this collection are Pac Man, Rally-X, and Dig Dug. I never tried the Playstation or whatever versions, but I'm pretty sure they do not include the updated versions of the games that this arcade version has. That's right... you can play the original versions of these games, with the low-res graphics and sound and everything, or you can play new versions, with better graphics, added power ups, and 2-player simaltaneous play. I didn't bother with Rally-X; Dig Dug wasn't a great game, and the new version isn't much better. But the Pac Man upgrade really kicked ass. After a bunch of shit games like Pac Man 2, Pac in Time, and Pac Attack we finally get a new game where Pac Man gets to be PAC MAN! It really is the same old game with cute hi-res graphics, a few new power ups, dash panels, ghosts that TRANSFORM to more evolved states, and, get this, a FINAL BOSS! It's a real pity I'll probably never see this game again, nor will I EVER get to see Volume 1 of the collection, which included upgrades of Galaga, Xevious, and Mappy... it just ain't fair...

NINJA GAIDEN

TECMO
SIDE-SCROLLING BEAT 'EM UP

   

NES:

Sometimes less is indeed more. Having just gone back and played both of these games, I can say that the dramatic departure of the simpler yet almost paradoxically more clever NES game from its arcade counterpart is something to behold. How, pray tell? Well, let me attempt to explain.

The arcade version of Ninja Gaiden is basically a Double Dragon clone with impressive graphics, poor controls, unimaginative enemies, and inscrutable action. Although the scissor leg grab is well-done, thatís about the only thing Iíd say is inspired. Basically you run around in two and a half dimensions fighting the same two or three clones (one Jason Vorhees lookalike, one vest-clad stick-wielding biker type) with poor moves.  All those clones eventually and quite unfairly gang up on the player... donít they have the decency to attack individually like in nearly all other martial arts contests? Much of the stuff on the streets is breakable, revealing gems, vitamins, and other items invaluable to a ninja battling thugs. On the rare occasion that a sword is given, of course, it only lasts a short duration. Not that your ninja ever thought of using the sword on his BACK, mind you. It seems rather silly that the best attack is performed by grabbing overhead bars and using the leverage to kick with both feet. In addition to that, all sorts of unfair objects like oncoming traffic will cause the player to mindlessly continue until the enemies and obstacles have been overcome. The only neat thing about this whole game is the CONTINUE? screen which depicts our helpless martial arts expert (deservedly) about to be bifurcated by a rotating saw. Ninja Gaiden certainly doesnít have the ability to hold interest like other quarter munching fighters like TMNT, Crime Fighters, Double Dragon, The Simpsons, Shinobi, or even Bad Dudes.


However, the NES version is quite different. Why this was given the same title is a mystery. This is your basic side-scroller, but in addition to your sword are useful powerups including throwing stars, fire, the ability to freeze time, "boomerang" shurikens, and others. The appearance of the levels, characters, bosses, etc. are merely adequate, as are the sounds. However, the challenge of each level and surprisingly attractive cinematic sequences will keep gamers coming back for more. Itís hard as hell to complete some of these jumps while avoiding and/or annihilating enemies at the same time, but you just KNOW you can do it if you persist. A very tough, very enjoyable game, the original Ninja Gaiden on the NES is my personal favorite in the series.

So, avoid the arcade game, but donít miss the NES version of Ninja Gaiden. Hopefully the update will be worthwhile, too...

LETHAL ENFORCERS, er, OPERATION WOLF 3

TAITO
SHOOTER WITH DIGITIZED CHARACTERS

 

I'm not even sure why I'm wasting my time reviewing this. It's nothing like Operations Wolf and Thunderbolt: the cool, subtly Japanese graphics and war-torn settings have been replaced with incredibly blocky digitized "actors" and backlot scenes that'd be right at home in an MST3K feature film, and the gun controllers don't even look that much like guns... they're these brightly colored, brick-shaped gun-like thingees that'll make you long for the days of orange Light Zappers and pink Lethal Enforcers Justifiers (at least they looked a little like actual weapons...). OK, OK... so it's not nearly as bad as Area 51 (I can't believe the positive press that piece of crap's been getting! Sure, it's got computer rendered artwork, but it also has terrible death animations that would be embarassing on an NES, let alone a dedicated coin-op! When the intro screen said Atari Games, I didn't think they meant the Atari 2600! <dadaboom!> But seriously, ladies and germs...), but I can't believe the dweebs at Taito passed up mainstream distribution of Liquid Kids and Bubble Symphony for... for... THIS. And worst of all, they've even hopped aboard this irritating 3-D fighting game bandwagon that's driven me nuts since Sega created the genre in 1993! Whatever they're smoking, get me the hell away from it...

PERFORMAN

DATA EAST (TOAPLAN)
ACTION

 

This obscure action title was the premiere effort of Toaplan, the creators of the exceptional Bubble Bobble derivitive Snow Bros. and a handful of historically significant shooters (as well as one that would have been quickly forgotten if not for its butchery of the English language, but let's try to forget about that one, all right?).  It's a great deal different from Toaplan's other releases, playing like an odd cross between the two Dig Dug games and Pac-Man, but the quirky gameplay and characters make it clear that this is in fact a Toaplan creation.

The hero of the game, as the title suggests, is Performan, a pint-sized, bug-eyed fighter who strongly resembles Ultraman.  He also looks a little like Strongbad from Homestar Runner if you haven't been keeping up with your cheesy Japanese monster movies.  Anyway, Performan must battle armies of tanks and robots on two battlefields... if he's surrounded by opponents, he can drill into the ground and make his escape by digging his way to a less dangerous location.  Any enemies on the surface can't harm him... until they decide to follow him into the underground passageways he's created.  Likewise, if Performan returns to the surface, any enemies beneath him are completely harmless... until they crawl out of the tunnels to resume the chase.

Fortunately, just like his inspiration Ultraman, Performan is anything but harmless.  He possesses the world's deadliest mohawk (sorry, Mr. T!), which he can remove from his head and throw at his foes.  He can also use the energy tanks scattered through the playfield to his advantage, setting them off with a toss of his mohawk or digging underneath them in the hopes that the tanks will drop onto his enemies.  Clever use of the energy tanks will eventually reveal a small ghost which will aid Performan... if he's quick enough to catch the phantom as it zips through the ground.  The bad guys are no match for our hero after he's teamed up with the ghost, and they're in really big trouble if Performan gulps down the drink that appears in the center of the screen.  If this happens, even the mightiest tank and most powerful android will be reduced to a copper coin, giving Performan the chance to cash in and collect any other bonus items that happen to be onscreen.

Like Namco's best releases from the 1980's, Performan is built around a clever, original idea.  The game takes place on multiple planes, which adds variety and opens up a lot of possibilities for the player.  Also, the concept of risk and reward (the backbone of many early arcade games) is used effectively, making Performan more exciting and intense... should you run after the ghost and possibly run into one of the bad guys in the process?  Is it better to go underground to avoid your enemies, or stay top side to keep them from using the tunnels you've made to surprise you later?  It's all up to you, but you'd better make your decisions fast... those tanks and droids are getting mighty close.

Sadly, Performan isn't quite up to the same standards as Namco classics like Dig Dug or Galaga.  First of all, the graphics are certainly functional, but they lack the personality you'd expect from a Toaplan release.  The playfields are plain and even a little ugly once you've dug a half dozen trenches through them.  The characters fare better, but only the googly-eyed Performan stands out.  The game's bland tanks and robots attempt to straddle the fence between cute and serious, and wind up being completely forgettable as a result.  The music is similarly disposable... I'd be surprised if anyone walked away from this game humming its tunes, which sound as though they've been pulled from a random Master System cartridge.  Finally, as innovative as the concept is, Performan simply doesn't work as well as Namco's classic arcade games.  It can be tough to see underground enemies, the ghost is frustratingly difficult to catch, and the gameplay isn't as addictive as the best arcade titles from the early 80's.

Of course, to be fair, Namco had a lot more experience than Toaplan when they made hits like Galaga and Pac-Man, so it's no surprise that Performan isn't quite up to those standards.  Toaplan did a great job of catching up, though... years after Performan, games like Fire Shark and Snow Bros. outperformed Namco's comparitively weak offerings, including Marvel Land, Burning Force, and of course, the creepily suggestive Wonder Momo.  Of course, then again, even Performan is a much better game than Wonder Momo...

PETER PEPPER'S ICE CREAM FACTORY

DATA EAST
ACTION

   

The pint-sized chef from Burgertime is back in this obscure, arcade cassette-only title.  I remember hearing about this one and at first regarded this as simply an urban legend or rumored title, not unlike Adventure Mr. Do!, Pengo's sequel Pingo, Space Ace II, or Pepper I.  But this was one myth that proved true, and, being a huge fan of the arcade and home versions of Burgertime, I just had to seek this one out and play it for myself.  Any follow up to that game just has to be good, right?  Well, no, not necessarily.

The scenario is similar to the original's, only this time there are several empty cones and giant boulder-like scoops to place on top of them.  These may be kicked so they roll onto a cone, shoved downward one level, or tossed upward.  Each cone holds up to two scoops, and becomes part of a platform once a scoop is placed on top.  Place each scoop on a cone to advance the level.  Like in the original, food-related enemies will attempt to halt your progress.  These include strawberries, donuts, milk jugs, and produce scales.

One of the aspects that made Burgertime such a joy was that while you were outnumbered and constantly pursued, you could use your limited pepper supply to stun and outmaneuver the bad guys AND use their own weight to assist you in completing the level.  The absence of your character's trademark pepper throwing was a bad idea, but here you may roll or toss the ice cream scoops to squash enemies or jump to elude your pursuers.  The problem is that landing or walking on an empty cone or jumping too far over a ledge results in your character plummeting to his death, and this happens way too often.  Also, the laws of gravity don't apply to the monsters, as they may freely walk over the gaps above empty cones!  So while Burgertime gave you at least a fighting chance, Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory seems quite unfair in comparison. 

Also, with the same button being used to jump as well as throw a scoop downward, you find yourself throwing when you want to jump, depending on your proximity to a scoop.  If this sounds difficult to describe, just imagine how awkward it is when you actually play the damn game!  Rather than give the player a power up item, touching the center treats (including crackers, carrots, and lollipops) freezes up all the other characters on the screen and allows you to pass through enemies with impunity.

Graphics and sounds are mostly recognizable but still slightly below average.  I mean, how difficult is it to draw milk jugs, donuts, ladders, and ice cream cones?  Two scoops on the same cone produce a huge scoop that somehow looks wrong.  The sound effects are little more than primitive electronic bleeps and the music is not nearly as memorable as in the original.

Theoretically this could have been made into an enjoyable game.  I am all for sequels that succeed without completely cannibalizing the original's ideas, like Mr. Do!'s Castle, Q*Bert's Qubes, and Super Mario Bros. II.  But sometimes, it's for the best that certain sequels NOT get ported to the United States and remain forgotten, like Hopping Mappy, Frogger II, Pac & Pal, and, alas, Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory.

ROC 'N ROPE

KONAMI
ACTION

 

Konami created some of the most innovative and unusual classic arcade titles.  Mikie, Pooyan, Frogger (go back and look - Konami programmed it, Sega gets all the credit), Rush 'N Attack, Contra, Circus Charlie, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Gyruss, and last but not least, Roc 'N Rope were all early Konami creations.  That innovative spirit seems to have lost its spark nowadays.  Either that or they keep making Metal Gear, Contra, and Castlevania updates because they know those are the franchises that sell.  Nevertheless, it's always fun to go back and play the underdogs and/or nearly forgotten titles from yesteryear.

Roc 'N Rope pits the player as a brave and reckless mountain climber seeking the legendary Roc, a giant bird once thought extinct.  The 'N Rope part of the title refers to the protagonist's grappling hook-like projectile, used to climb to higher levels.  Cavemen and dinosaurs provide your main adversaries, but falling and level obstacles will later come into play as well.  Four challenging stages await, then it's back to square one to try it at an even harder difficulty level.

That's basically all there is to it.  Roc 'N Rope is not about long explanations or plot of any sort, which is a minor weakness.  I'd have preferred to have seen a brief attract mode giving the player and enemies names and perhaps even some background information.  Now that I think about it, Konami was never big into that stuff back in the day, and the fact that they put too much story into the Metal Gear Solid franchise nowadays may be their way of compensating.  There are no intermissions nor is there any significant reward (that I recall) onscreen for "flipping" the game.  With these negatives out of the way, Roc 'N Rope's gameplay is fortunately strong enough to make up for these shortcomings.

Aside from the diagonal shooting rope, the other item at players' disposal is a short range flashlight.  This flashlight is used to blind the dinos and cavemen, making them briefly harmless.  The laws of physics don't apply to the bad guys, as they are also able to scale walls, even if there aren't any!  They climb up, down, regardless if there's anything to climb on.  Even if you shoot a rope then traverse along that rope where they can't reach you, you are still not out of danger, because the monsters will follow and jostle the rope.  If you are still when the rope is bumped, you remain on, but if not, you plummet either safely or to your death, depending on how high you are and who or what lies underneath.  The situation can be turned into the player's advantage, because if you do manage to reach the land you're climbing for, you may now shoot another rope, making the other rope disappear, eliminating the monsters and giving yourself some well-deserved points.  There are also golden feathers for points and what appears to be eggs that give the player invincibility and let you kill the beasts on contact.

Roc 'N Rope is a winner despite mediocre graphics.  Good playability, fun sound and music, challenging level designs make this somewhat obscure arcade oldie worthwhile.  Recommended.

RUSH 'N ATTACK

KONAMI
PLATFORMER

 

Don't know why it is this title appeals so much to me. Could be because I have such fond memories of being a child growing up in the 80ís when the original video game craze and final days of the cold war were in full swing. The influx of anti-Communist sentiments in America had again reached mammoth proportions, and Konami no doubt capitalized on this fact for their classic arcade side scroller Rush ĎN Attack (what could this play on words possibly suggest?), in which a single American soldier must infiltrate an enemy stronghold armed with nothing more than a knife. Metal Gear Solid it ainít, but this one still holds fond memories and provides a pleasant diversion to this day.

Levels are set up with ladders, platforms, and other stationary objects scattered around each level. Graphics are nothing fancy, yet they are drawn with more detail than most from this time. Tanks, munitions, missiles, submarines, barracks, and other neat stuff is constantly scrolling by in the background. The overall appearance of the game is, for lack of a better term, quite charming. That goes for the soundtrack as well, with a strident military drumbeat during gameplay (VERY reminiscent of the lil piggiesí musical interludes in Konamiís earlier Pooyan) and inspirational, patriotic tunes piped out during level intermissions perfectly supplementing the onscreen action.

Thereís really not much to the actual game itself. Run from left to right, stab anyone in your way, take their weapons whenever possible. The KLOV aptly referred to this type of side scroller as ďX-axis tourism.Ē True, but thatís not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Controls are extremely simple and straightforward, utilizing only two buttons to stab and fire, but that doesnít mean the game itself is easy. Itís not how tough your opponents are, itís being outnumbered that really counts. There are even a slew of end level opponents which must be annihilated, ranging from standard foes to dogs to adversaries with personal jetpacks.

On paper, all of this may not sound too exciting, and maybe it really isnít after all. To this gameís fault, the powerups are rather unimpressive, giving the player a very limited number of uses. Jumps are executed by pressing up, which at times may cause your character to cling to a ladder unintentionally. Some enemies must be killed with a leaping strike, which often leaves the airborne player vulnerable to ground attacks or falling on land mines. On the other hand, Rush ĎN Attackís detriments could be viewed as adding to the challenge, so Iím tempted to overlook some of these negative aspects.

In summary, Konamiís original military action contest still packs a punch (or should I say a stab?) after all these years. I may be the biggest dork in the world for saying this, but Iíd rather play Rush ĎN Attack on MAME than either Metal Gear Solid title. Sure, I played both of those non-stop till they were completed. Who didnít? But when those titles were finished there really wasnít much to the game, for me anyways. The fact that there are no continues or cheats adds great appeal (or a nail in the coffin, depending on your perspective) to Rush ĎN Attack. And after 15 or so years, I have yet to successfully rescue those poor P.O.W.s. A personal favorite of mine that you will either love or loathe.

SOUL EDGE

NAMCO
3D FIGHTER

 

Gee, this doesn't seem the least bit familiar... {sigh} Well, contrary to what you may have heard from EGM, Soul Edge is just another fighting game with polygonal graphics. True, they're very GOOD graphics, but (as usual), this doesn't hide the fact that the game's play mechanics are confusing and frustrating to the utmost. And hell, if you like the graphics so much, just stand in front of the machine all day and ooh and aah at the realistic character movement and beautiful tracing effects- it's a lot less taxing on your wallet (and patience) that way. Go ahead! It's not like anyone else ever plays the game anyways...

STREET FIGHTER ALPHA

CAPCOM
FIGHTER

   

Make it stop! Somebody make it stop! No, I'm kidding... I'm actually much more fond of tournament fighting games with 2-D graphic engines than those with polygonal ones, like Tekken, Virtua Fighter, War Gods, Soul Edge, Tekken 2, etc. (you'd think the stuck up, whiny goons from Next Generation would snivel about the overabundance of THESE titles by now, but alas... when you're working for Imagine Publishing, there's only one simple formula you need to live by: 3-D = good thing, 2-D = bad thing. But I digress), since the control for these games is far more reliable and the perspective doesn't change 15,000 times over the course of one match. And as far as Street Fighter 2 sequals and prequels go, Street Fighter Alpha is a pretty good effort, with swell animation, a tweaked special bar with enough energy for up to three supercharged attacks, and three hidden characters (too bad two of them are Ryu with different heads. If that's not bad enough, the sequal has Ryu in a dress! Talk about obsessing...). While this is all well and good, let's face it, Street Fighter Alpha could have been better. The backgrounds are only OK... there's a noticable improvement over the ones in the Street Fighter 2 games, but they're no match for Darkstalkers'. Some of the characters leave much to be desired as well... Birdie is a poor substitute for Zangief (and judging from the way he looks, you get the feeling that the Japanese don't have an especially high opinion of blacks. Then again, the boxer from Killer Instinct was pretty stereotypical, too...), and Guy just doesn't fit. He's a fairly effective fighter, and definately adds nostalgia to the mix, but porting him DIRECTLY from Final Fight to Street Fighter: Alpha, with no changes to accommodate the differences in genres, was a bad idea.

Tacked on Final Fight alum aside, Street Fighter: Alpha is a fun diversion, although it lacks the replay value of the Street Fighter 2 games. The Saturn and Playstation versions are alre ady out, so you may want to forego a trip to the arcade and just head down to your local Meijer's (Wal-Mart's?) for either game... long access time aside, they're near perfect translations of the coin-op.

SUPER BURGERTIME

DATA EAST
ACTION

   

Burgertime is one of the best remembered classic games, and for good reason. With its simple yet distinct graphics and easy to understand gameplay coupled with upbeat, catchy music, it's difficult to not enjoy that game. And with such uncomplicated play mechanics, it translated well to even the most primitive consoles of the early 80's. With successful NES and computer incarnations, and the underrated Game Boy Burgertime Deluxe, I often wondered why this was never given a 90's facelift similar to the Namco arrangements, Elevator Action Returns, or Neo Mr. Do!. Well, it turns out that recently defunct Data East did, in fact, release an updated Burgertime arcade title in the early 90's, but this game was exclusive to Japan. Sometimes Americans and other westerners are shafted out of the enjoyment of underground classics or sequels. And sometimes we're spared from poor efforts that serve mainly to tarnish the image of our favorite classics. Super Burgertime, unfortunately, falls into this category.

Super Burgertime's graphics and sounds are not horrible, but they certainly could have been better.  It becomes clear from the opening title screen that Peter Pepper has morphed into a poorly-drawn manga character. The familiar scenario with ladders and scaffolds on which sandwich ingredients are placed is here, with a wide variety of competantly designed enemies. In addition to hot dogs and eggs, there are now pea pods, celery sticks, acorns, and other baddies to contend with.

Gameplay is nothing spectacular and is actually unfaithful to the original. Instead of gradually flattening the buns, patties, lettuce, and tomatoes when you walk across them, you must jump on top of the items, then stomp  several more times until they fall. This is disorienting and frustrating at first, but the player will eventually get used to it. What is more difficult to get used to is that you have unlimited pepper at the beginning, but once a timer reaches zero, you are defenseless without some power up item (positioned on either side of the screen) like a tuning fork or spatula. The varying strength of enemies, which require one or more hits of pepper, don't bother me too much. What does bother me is that the size and shape of some of these enemies too often results in an unfair death, especially when the tall celery sticks and pea pods close in on you. Sending enemies down with a bun doesn't work the way it should, either. In the original, this would drop the hamburger ingredient down and make the stage easier to complete, but not here. Also, you must be exactly in the right place to move from ladder to platform or else you will stand still and be at the mercy of the enemies. Every four levels there is a boss character and the chef must throw mini hamburgers to defeat this foe. Not a bad idea, but again, it could have been done better.

Super Burgertime is the kind of game that requires constant continuing rather than true skill to complete, like many early 90's coin-ops. The anti-climactic battle with the final boss ends with a dumb parade sequence that's  certainly not worth the effort. Like Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory, this follow up falls flat.

VIGILANTE

DATA EAST (IREM)
ACTION

   

This semi-sequel to 1985's excellent Kung-Fu Master falls short on many counts. Thomas is back, apparently having dumped Sylvia for Madonna(um...OK...), who, wouldn't you know, just also HAPPENED to be kidnapped by a gang of thugs. In old-school, 2-D side-scrolling X-axis left-to-right tourism fashion, you must beat the Christ outta those sorry bastards to reclaim your chick!

Graphics and sounds are definitely passable. The main character has his perpetual pissed, determined, unchanging scowl, and the baddies are updated to be at least on par with the other, superior-playing fighting games of the day. The audio is actually impressive, with brutal, exaggerated smacks from everybody, although your own death scream is not as jarring and penetrating as in the original. The bosses look alright as well, but have the annoying phrase "aw, come on!" repeated ad nauseum.

Backgrounds are simply passable. The inclusion of nunchucks is a welcome addition, but one hit and they're gone! The knife wielding thugs this time don't throw the knives up or down, but stab instead, and the midgets or kids or whatever they were are not here. Also, Kung-Fu Master had every even stage challenge the player with falling pots, dragons, snakes, butterflies, and exploding balloons at the start of each stage, but not here. You just get the satisfaction of beating numerous clones of different races in the same gang (heartwarming that these gangs employ equal-opportunity or affirmative action) with a few weapon variations (i.e. chains or guns with pathetically slow bullets).

Gameplay is fun and challenging until you reach the bosses, in which case it becomes totally unfair and frustrating to have poor collision detection against a far stronger adversary. Then, it's back to the tradition of pumping quarter after quarter into the machine until you eventually defeat the bad guy(s) or run out of cash or patience.

Kung-Fu Master is one of my all-time favorite arcade classics, and is still one of the toughest, most relentless fighters ever. A big part of this is because you were not allowed to continue, and saving the girl actually took genuine skill. Not so much here, because any moron with tons of quarters could conceivably play all the way through Vigilante.

If memory serves, this may have been one of those Sente games, one of Nolan Bushnell's pet projects that produced several forgettable titles and only one true winner (Snake Pit rocks). I could be mistaken, so don't quote me on that. [According to the official MAME History document file, Data East released the game in the United States.  Tony's right about one thing, though... most of Sente's games really weren't that great, excluding Rabbit Punch, which was licensed from the creators of Aero Fighters. -ed.]

Vigilante is more a novelty than anything else. Most franchises usually improve with their sequels, but there will always be the exception to the rule. 


ARCADE
GAMES

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Baby Pac-Man
Best of Best
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