23/07/2014

MAKERUNA! MAKENDOU 2: KIMERO YOUKAI SOURI DAIJIN (SNES)

"Anime-themed fighting game" is a genre with plenty of entries, but today I'll be looking at one upon which the eye-widening, hair-brightening beam of Japanese cartoons shines especially strongly: Success and Datam Polystar's 1995 Super Famicom game Makeruna! Makendou 2: Kimero Youkai Souri Daijin!



The title translates as something like "Don't Lose! Kendo Magic 2: Do it! Monster Prime Minister!" which isn't as snappy as "Street Fighter II" but I'll forgive it because it contains the phrase "Monster Prime Minister". You might recognise the "youkai" part of it's original title as the collective word for the ghosts and spooks of Japanese folklore, so there's probably going to be a supernatural aspect to this one. Personally, I also remembered that "souri" is the Japanese for "Prime Minister" thanks to playing Gonbee no I'm Sorry. It's nice to know I've learnt something from working on this site over the years, and I'm sure knowing the Japanese word for Prime Minister will come in handy any day now.
There's also a 2 in the title, so this is a sequel. The first game was a side-scrolling action game called simply Makeruna! Makendou, which got an American release as Kendo Rage. The first game stars a girl called Mai, who is replaced in the sequel by her younger sister Hikari. They're both young girls in short skirts who beat things up because hey, that's the Japanese way. They even featured in their own little anime movie! Here's the intro from it, which (WARNING) you probably shouldn't watch at work because it's got a brief shot of a cartoon nipple in it.



There you have it - the most generic anime opening of all time. It's the anime equivalent of those pictures where the faces of a population are morphed together to create the most average-looking person, with a theme song that sounds precisely like you'd expect it to but which is also so forgettable I couldn't even hum the melody after listening to it five times. The OVA itself is on YouTube, and after briefly flicking through it I'd say looks as predictable and over-familiar as the intro implies.


I'm here for the videogame, though, and here's the intro to Makeruna! Makendou 2's story mode. This is Mai, the main character of the first game in the series. We won't be playing as her, because even though she's a martial arts expert with magical powers she's a reluctant monster fighter.


Her sister Hikari, on the other hand, loves nothing more than beating things up. In order to sate her bloodlust she teams up with this lettuce-headed weirdo, a "spirit detective" called Doro, who can unlock her true strength via the traditional Magical Girl means of giving Hikari a wand and having her dress in a skimpier outfit. Understandably, Mai doesn't want her little sister putting herself in mortal danger...


So Doro and Hikari assuage Mai's concerns by rolling her up in a giant ball of string, gagging her and throwing her in the back of a truck. The behaviours of a determined sibling and a terrifying serial killer have never before overlapped so thoroughly.


Now Hikari is free to transform into her new costume, change her name to Makendo and to beat the living crap out of a wide variety of themed anime villains. Let's hope that she doesn't forget to feed her captive sister during all the excitement.


The bulk of Makeruna! Makendou 2 is comprised of the story mode, where Hikari fights her way through a series of opponents and sometimes text appears on screen. The other characters are playable, but only in versus mode: the single-player game is all Hikari all the time, so let's meet her first opponent.


It's a football player called Masoccer. He's got elf ears and a big green pompadour, which is apparently enough reason for Hikari - sorry, she's Makendo now that she's transformed - to give him a swift kicking. Did this huge crowd turn up to watch the fight, or were they just enjoying the football when Makendo jumped in and started pumelling this guy? It's never explained, but the spectators seem to be having a good time either way. You can see the referee in the background, ignoring the pleas of the other players to call off the match. "Let the young girl in the very short skirt fight. I want to see where she's going with this." says the referee. The referee is a bit weird, but then of course he is - he's a referee.


The fighting follows the usual best-of-three-rounds format, with four attack buttons for light and hard punches and kicks and blocking performed by holding away from your opponent, so it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. I immediately latched on to the fact that Makendo's hard kicks seem to be much more useful than all her other basic attacks, providing a good balance of power and range, especially when crouching and trying to whack Masoccer in the groin.


Makendo has special moves too, and because she's the main (and only, in story mode) character she's packing the most familiar moves. She's got a fireball, which is obviously launched by pressing quarter-circle towards and punch. You can see it above, and while it may be the most common of all special moves I'm going to give Makeruna! Makendou 2 credit for having Makendo shoot what looks like a little ghost out of her hands. It's wearing the triangular headband that Japanease ghosts generally wear, and ghosts are much more interesting that fire as a weapon to throw at your enemies.
Makendo also has a dragon-punch type move where she flies upwards whilst being on fire, (very useful, but I could never get it to work consistently,) a combo of dashing kicks, and an E. Honda / Fist of the North Star flurry of punches activated by repeatedly tapping the punch button. Of these moves, I'd say I got the most use out of the hundred hand slap, and not just because I kept doing it by accident.


With all these moves at my disposal, I soon managed to defeat Masoccer, whose only tactic seemed to be repeatedly kicking glowing footballs at me. Upon my victory, Makendo levelled up! Yes, there's an experience system in this game but I never managed to make much sense of it. There are some clear benefits to levelling up but mostly I couldn't tell what (if any) statistics were being changed and whether how well I played had any bearing on how many experience points I got. All I know for sure is that Makendo has reached level three and there's now another energy meter underneath her health bar.


A picture of a squashed-up Makendo / Hikari appears between the first and second fights. She looks angry. Maybe Protoman is demanding she give him his boots back.


The seconds battle pits Makendo against the zombified corpse of Disco Stu. His name is Makkey, and he is funky, dancing around the screen and occasionally stopping to play a ukelele. In the background, Michael Jackson and Bubbles do the dance from Thriller outside a crab shop. Bubbles looks to be enjoying the whole thing rather more than his master.


It turns out that my new energy bar is a magic meter, and by performing certain pad inputs and then pressing the R button, Makendo can perform a magic spell on herself, either temporarily increasing the amount of damage her attacks do or healing some of her missing health. It's an interesting idea, but not one I ever got much use out of because your opponents can also perform magic on themselves, and constantly attacking them seemed like the only way to stop them from doing so. Pausing to power Makendo up meant that my enemy had time to power themselves up, and they always made much better use of their super-powers than I did.


Makkey's much more a challenge that the first opponent, with multi-hit moves that can be hard to keep away from. He can also have a panic attack while a ghostly version of The Scream hovers over his head. That one's not so difficult to avoid, but it looks kinda cool.


Eating people is not cool, and seeing Makendo struggle to escape from Makkey's horrible frog-like throat pouch is making me feel a bit queasy. Even Jacko has had to look away in disgust, and he worked on a song with Eddie Murphy so you think he'd be inured to that level of horror.


I managed to escape from Makkey's throat and beat him up, for which I was rewarded with this picture of Doro. I can't blame Mai for protesting about this guy turning up and talking her sister into becoming a magical girl. The trenchcoat is bad enough, but it's those Mickey Mouse gloves that make him look particularly sinister.


Fighter number three is Madonna. Not the singer, although you'd be forgiven for assuming that given Michael Jackson's appearance in the previous stage, but a ballet dancer whose name presumably comes from "prima donna". I guess they're sticking with the theme of eveyone's names starting with "Ma," huh? I like the punk ballerina in the background, too.


After three fights, my judgement of Makeruna! Makendou 2's gameplay is that it's... okay. A little slow, sometimes unbalanced, but mostly just okay, a decent enough fighting game with which you could pass some time. The biggest problem with it is that the fighters can stay too close to one another, with consecutive attacks not pushing them apart as far as you'd expect. Any multi-hit moves can keep you trapped for ages, and if you manage to pin an enemy in the corner and hit them with the hundred-hand slap without them blocking then congratulations, you've just taken 70% of their health bar off. Between this and the pervading feeling that the hitboxes on most attacks aren't quite right, Makeruna! Makendou 2 is never going to challenge the upper echelon of SNES fighting games, but it's definitely not an unplayable disaster and there's just enough charm to it to keep it from being too boring.


I have no idea what's going on in this cutscene. Hikari is aboard the Hell Bus, and she's really happy about it. Did I actually lose the fight against Madonna and this infernal omnibus is carrying Hikari to the afterlife? I think that bus is supposed to look scary, but as someone who regularly uses actual buses I can only imagine that it's an improvement.


Now Makendo must do battle with Garekky, who would show up in the fight after I claim everyone's name is going to start with "Ma." Thanks, Garekky. I'd thank him in person - with my fists - but he doesn't seem to have turned up for our fight. Oh well, I'm happy to take the victory on a forfeit.


Ouch. Turns out Garekky is a giant robot. Did you really think there wouldn't be a giant robot in Makeruna! Makendou, after seeing that intro movie? I'm convinced that the goal of the entire Makeruna! Makendou franchise was to condense the most anime into the smallest space available, creating a veritable neutron star of anime to tear the world apart with its inescapable gravity. Giant robots are a mandatory part of that equation.
Fighting a giant robot might sound like a challenge, but this is the easiest part of the game: Garekky attacks at very predictable intervals, and by jumping to the side just as he attacks you can avoid his moves and kick him on the way down.


Next up is... what the hell is this thing? It's called Maririn, but that doesn't offer me any clues. "Mechanical chicken blob" is the best I can come up with, and despite looking approximately 12,000% less threatening than a giant robot Maririn quickly kicked my arse the first time we fought.


I just couldn't get away from the move where she(?) stuffs Makendo into a bag and slams her around. Did that ever happen in Sailor Moon? I don't think Makendo is a very good magical girl, is what I'm saying.


My reward for beating Maririn - I scraped through the fight by spamming Makendo's Dragon Punch move - was a trip to the bottom of the ocean and a fight against a burly merman called Macho. It's Cid from Final Fantasy IV with the body of a fish! And a big purple heart tattooed right in the centre of his chest. Very macho, that. The music in this stage is peppered with a repeating voice sample that says "uh huh?" so the whole thing has a Cho Aniki feel to it.


Throws are Macho's speciality, with the most common one being where he throws Makendo into the air and uppercuts her right in the breadbasket on the way down. For some reason, being underwater doesn't mean that Makendo sinks slowly onto his fist, either, and while it certainly looks brutal I'm going to have to say that punching young girls in the stomach, even if they are trespassing in your undersea kingdom, is not a very macho thing to do. Fortunately, Makendo's decision to shoot ghosts out of her hands rather than the more traditional fire is vindicated in this underwater environment, and I managed to chip away at Macho's health until victory was mine.


This is Makenka, a young man whose body has been modified to be super-strong. Yes, he's a super sentai character, as if the background cameo by a squad of Power Rangers was enough to make that clear. Is that Goldar hanging around back there? If it is, it seems he's made the move from villainous subordinate to head evil honcho. Good for him.


Makenka has three main techniques: a gun for an arm, the ability to run into Makendo like an over-excited kid who's not looking where they're going and sentai poses. The poses do not help him in battle. Neither do his other moves, if I'm honest, and after being repeatedly battered by the two previous opponents Makenka offers a nice respite. Jump over his shots when he fires at you and kick him in the head to win. Sadly, he doesn't explode, like people who just got beaten up usually do in tokusatsu shows.


A tennis-themed villain called Makenro? Nice, the developers really made the "Ma" name prefix work for them with this one.
Tennis might seem like it offers a limited range of talents that can be used as offensive combat moves, and yes, Makenro does spend a lot of the fight pinging magic tennis balls at you. However, she also has probably my favourite move in the game - she scoops her opponent into the air with her racquet and then smashes them into the ground as though she's going for a serve. I like that, it's a nice way to bring her theme across. She also has a giant picture of herself recreating The Birth of Venus hanging up on the wall behind her indoor tennis court, so I'm going to say that Makenro is my favourite character in the whole game.


Then a man with two wasp's arses for shoulderpads and teeth that speak of years of dental neglect shows up. Oh, hey, and he's got that party-horn thing on his chin that Pharaohs generally have. So he's a Pharaoh, then?


A space Pharaoh, no less! His name's Makenpo, because there are no good puns about Pharaohs whose names start with "Ma". Actually, kenpo is the name for various martial arts so maybe that's where his name comes from. He spends most of the fight slowly wandering back and forth, holding a skull that chomps its teeth and eats fireballs which is a) probably not a kenpo move and b) rather boring.


Did I mention that Makenpo is the final boss of the story mode? Because he is, and frankly he's a bit of a let-down. Maybe if I understood the pre-battle cutscenes I'd be more invested in winning this fight, but as it is this astro-Anubis has a couple of powerful but easy-to-dodge moves and not much else going for him.


Eventually I hit Makenpo with enough spammed Dragon Punches to defeat him, and then he exploded. Makendo has saved the day from the evil space Pharaoh and she's done more than enough punching to satisfy even her gnawing desire for extreme violence, so now there's nothing left to do but to bask in our glorious victory. Although, I feel like I'm forgetting something...


Oh yeah, Makendo tied up her sister and left her locked up somewhere. Well, Mai is free now, and the game ends as she takes her revenge on her bloodthirsty younger sister and the weird trenchcoat-wearing demon who enabled her. A fitting end to a game that wants to be "wacky" but which is saddled with competent but hardly thrilling gameplay.


Someone must have really liked Makeruna! Makendou 2: Kimero Youkai Souri Daijin - it was re-released on the original Playstation with some graphical tweaks - but that person is not me. I also don't hate it. This is a game about which it is very difficult to have a strong opinion, a game seemingly designed to be as thoroughly average as possible. When the most enjoyable part of a game is a few of the special moves and some background details you know you're in trouble, but the the fighting action won't hold your interest for long. Not the single player mode, anyway - there is a versus mode where you can play as any character you like, and that must add some replayability, but in the end Makeruna! Makendou 2 is one I can only recommend if you want the chance to play as a buff, bristly merman. Actually, scratch that - it makes the game sound way more interesting than it really is.

18/07/2014

CRAZY FIGHT (ARCADE)

 Today's article is about Subsino's 1996 arcade game Crazy Fight, which isn't a fighting game. Is it crazy? That depends on where weird cartoon faces and extremely simplistic gameplay fall on your personal insanity meter.


Even by the standards of some of the games I write about, Crazy Fight is very obscure. I couldn't find much out about Subsino other than they're a Taiwanese outfit who mostly make video slot machines and kid's rides. The only other videogame I've seen from them is a Bubble Bobble / Snow Bros riff called Penguin Brothers, so I don't think crafting fantastic gameplay experiences is going to be their forte and just looking at the title screen is only amplifying that feeling: considering it's from 1996, that is not an attractive title screen.


Just to let you know that I do attempt some research before inevitably flying into these articles half-cocked, I tried to find out what information, if any, the subtitle revealed. I managed to figure out that the first symbol is an alternate way of writing "crazy" in Chinese, but I couldn't get the rest, although if it ends up just saying "Crazy Fight" I won't feel too bad about giving up.


Here's our hero. It's Cyber Beavis! Cyber Beavis' mission is to save the world from evil and score with some babes. The naive fool, he'll never score with anyone wearing those shoes. He's also got a massive gun sticking out of his shoulder, right next to his ear, so he's presumably deaf as well as looking like an unused Power Rangers villain.


There's a stage select screen, for selecting your stage. How exciting. You'll notice that the stages are displayed as two rows of three: remember that, it'll come up again in a minute.
So, what stages are available? It looks like there's a dockyard, an airport, an indistinct jumble of pixels, the factory where they make the oil drums for all those side-scrolling beat-em-ups, a space station and a graveyard. That graveyard is offering the strongest impetus yet to overcome my usual inability to play stages in anything other than the "correct" order, but I managed to resist its charms and I'm heading down to the docks.


Yep, that's definitely a harbour of some sort. A big boat, some crates - I can practically smell the sea air.


A man with a rocket launcher jumps up from behind a box. Who is he? What does he want? Is it wise to be firing a rocket launcher at a target that's so close to you? I'm afraid I have no answers to these questions. Well, except the last one, the answer to that is "no, you dope". As to Crazy Fight's plot (there isn't one) and setting (generic) I have no information. All I know is that I'm going to have to shoot this rocket launcher man before he blows me up.


Aww, I made him cry. Wait, not "aww", the guy was going to kill me. I'd say he got off pretty lightly.
That's the gameplay, then: Crazy Fight is a shooting gallery where targets pop up in the background and you have to shoot them before they shoot you. The thing is, it's a shooting game without physical gun, or even a joystick / cursor set-up. You have six buttons, each one corresponding to one of the six areas of the screen where enemies can appear, the areas being laid out in the two-rows-of-three grid that I told you to remember from the stage select screen. This enemy was in the top-left zone, so pressing the top-left button shoots him. Simple!


Very simple, in fact. Once you've shot a bad guy, you've experienced the sum total of Crazy Fight's gameplay. There are no power-ups, no weapon upgrades, no secret bonuses that I could find, just a one-dimensional test of reflexes that has the feel of a minigame that's been stretched out way, way too thin. The only other thing you need to pay attention to is that hostages pop up, like the nerd pictured above, and you're not supposed to shoot them. You lose health if you do. Shooting hostages accounted for roughly 90% of the health I lost while playing this game, but in my defence the hostages don't so much "pop up" as they constantly pour onto the screen making loud, attention-grabbing noises. I know you're scared, buddy - we'd all be scared if we were kidnapped by terrorists - but jumping out into the middle of a gunfight and waving your arms around like there's a swarm of wasps in your hair isn't helping anyone. You get shot, I lose health and the terrorists have one less hostage to distract me with, it's a lose-lose-lose scenario.


"No," says Crazy Fight, "bad Cyber Beavis. Stop shooting the innocents." Hey, if they're so innocent why are they hanging around this shady port, a known gathering place for terrorists, hmm? Case closed. That's Crazy Fight. We can all go home now.
Okay, so I'm not going to end the article there, because if this game has only one thing going for it - and honestly it does only have one thing going for it - it's that it features a good selection of characters, all of whom pull comically exaggerated faces of agony when shot. I'd like to show you some of them. Plus, there's a graveyard stage, and I can't leave without seeing that.


Whoever's in charge of this evil organisation can be commended for their commitment to gender equality: I'd say there's a roughly 50/50 split between male and female villains. Sure, all the women tend to be glamorous, "attractive" types - although the one in the top-right of the above screenshot looks as though she could do with a good night's sleep to really look her best - but it's a step in the right direction. The men don't score so highly on the good looks front. Take the fellow at the front here - a muscular body honed through an admirable dedication to physical betterment, but with a haircut that could have belonged to Heihachi Mishima in the punk rock years of his youth and a severe lazy eye that requires urgent ophthalmic attention.


After shooting enough enemies, the stage ends and you're shown some statistics. I thought hitting 78% of the enemies was pretty good, but Cyber Beavis disagrees and he's broken down into floods of tears. There's rather a lot of crying in this game, much of it from Cyber Beavis, who I'm really starting to dislike. I think it's his horrible gurning face.


Stage two is the airport, which is a lot like the docks only with an aeroplane instead of a ship. The enemies are different too, in appearance if not in form. This screenshot neatly captures my worrying tendency to subconsciously target the innocent. I  hit the ninja / ski-mask-wearing terrorist, which is fine, but I also blasted that Clark-Kent-looking son-of-a-bitch down at the bottom of the screen while managing to avoid the smiling assassin hiding in the tyres, 1920's Lady Gaga in the middle and Tank Girl over on the right.


For whatever reason - he's actually a robot, a sudden lightning strike, he was smuggling a car battery down his trousers - the ski mask ninja becomes electrified when you shoot him. You also have to shoot him twice to get rid of him where every other enemy only takes one hit to kill: I'm putting this down to the fact he isn't human. That is not a human skull.
Also worth calling attention to: middle-aged, uzi-wielding anime pirate on the left. What beautiful eyes he has!


My accuracy was a lot better in this stage, and Cyber Beavis is so pleased that his head has swollen and engulfed his whole body, leaving only his tiny legs to prop him up like a grotesque, bionic Mr. Potato Head. God knows what'll happen if I ever score 100% on a stage, he'll probably turn into nothing but a seven-foot-wide grinning mouth.


Stage three is the one I couldn't make out on the stage select screen, but now I'm here it's clearly a dilapidated, graffiti-covered building. And what a happy place it is! Everybody's smiling: beefy heavy weapons man, generic thug, generic thug (female ver.), they're all having the time of their lives. The lady at the bottom right isn't happy, because she's a hostage who just got an explosion to the face rather than the rescue she was hoping for. She shouts "I hate you!" when you shoot her, which is quite forgiving of her, given the circumstances.


None of the enemies in Crazy Fight are allowed to die with dignity, but the heavy weapons guy suffers an more ignominious fate than most because his clothes fall off when you shoot him. Like everything else in the game, the reason for this is never explained. Cyber Beavis must have just liked the look of him.



There's not much to say about stage four's factory environment and the villains hiding within. It's mostly beefy, well-armed chaps with large guns, plus that bearded fellow on the right who looks like the dad from an early eighties sitcom. Normally I'd question the developer's decision to show a flash of underwear on the recently-defeated female villain, but enemies fly off screen so quickly when you shoot them that I never saw it with the naked eye, so it's something the developers included for their own enjoyment.


Of all the hostages in the game, the only one that they bothered to tie up was the woman in the red blouse. I guess they realised that securing her arms wasn't going to stop her jumping out in front of the first bullet that came along and so they decided to leave everyone else unbound, saving time, energy and money on the rope budget.


Oddly, when you finish this stage there's a brief animation of someone chasing Cyber Beavis and throwing balls at his head. Have I mentioned that I have no idea what the hell is going on? I mean, our hero looks the type who deserves things being thrown at his head - perhaps that's how he got injured enough to need cybernetics in the first place - but this is a mystery to me. I think it happens when you shoot a lost of civilians during the stage, but if that was the case I'd expect it to appear after every bloody level.


Crazy Fight makes more of an effort to live up to its name with stage five, where you take on aliens aboard a space station. Nice Predator / Xenomorph hybrid on the left there. I think there's some mop DNA in his genetic code, too.
Something I did realise here was that there's more information about the evil mastermind behind Crazy Fight's shenanigans than I first though, because I'm pretty sure that's a picture of him next to the health bar in the top-right of the screen. I was so busy concentrating on the action that I ignored it at first, assuming it was a player two icon, but that bar goes down as you defeat enemies and once it's empty the stage is over, so there you go: all this madness is the work of someone with a massive facial scar and eyes so far apart he looks more goldfish than man.


Nice alien designs, though. Snakeoid is a bit bland, but otherwise a decent effort if somewhat constrained by the humanoid shape. I think my favourite is the purple robot dude in the middle. Is that thing sticking out of the metal part of his head another eye? I hope so, it means he can keep an eye on his comrade with the tentacle-mouthed torso-face. You can't trust anything with more than one mouth.
Despite this level having "DIFFICULT" written over it on the stage select screen, I think it's actually easier than the one preceding it because the aliens are so visually different from the human hostages, meaning you can identify and shoot them much faster. I know I got my highest accuracy rating yet on this stage.


"Ninety-nine percent," says Cyber Beavis, "A perfect score!" He's as bad at maths as he is at not making me want to punch his stupid face every time I see it.


Then, suddenly, the entire game is redeemed and justified. Vampire Frankensteins! Skull-headed jiangshi! Quavering priests poking out of abandoned wells! The final graveyard stage is exactly what I was hoping it would be and then some. Just check out this pistol-toting ghoul/witch:


Even the nun behind him looks like she's gazing upon his magnificent Halloween-iness with barely-restrained adoration, and I can't say I blame her. Actually, while we're on the subject of nuns, there's nothing in the bible about the divine punishment for accidentally fake-shooting a cartoon nun, right? I'm, uh, asking for a friend.


However, my very favourite thing about this stage is the expression the mummies make when you shoot them. Look at that poor sod, he didn't expect it to end like this when he crawled out of his sarcophagus this morning, and the look of complete surprise of his bandage mush made me laugh and laugh.
Alas, my trip to the cemetery was all too brief, and after a couple of minutes spent shooting monsters the stage ended and so did Crazy Fight.


Hey, what do you know: in the end Cyber Beavis did score.
Crazy Fight isn't a bad game, but then it's not much of a game at all: it works well, but the gameplay is so lacking in ambition that it would be almost impossible to get it wrong. Still, as a (very) short little reflex tester it's enjoyable enough, even if I wish it had put a greater emphasis on the craziness its title promised, with more stages like the last two. Then I look at that mummy's face again and, for a moment at least, I have to revise my opinion to ten out of ten, best game ever.

P.S. Did I mention VGJunk has a Patreon now?

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