In the interests of keeping things fresh and innovative here at VGJunk, I present a game about ninjas. They use ninja magic and hit things with their ninja weapons. Also shurikens. No wait, come back – did I mention it’s an unreleased ninja game? That’s right, you might never have seen this one before. It’s the mysterious arcade prototype Hangzo!

You might notice that there are no developer credits on the title screen. That is, you might notice it if you’re more observant than me. Personally, I couldn’t stop looking at the ninja on the right who’s horrified that he’s picked the claw out of the big sack of ninja weapons. He really wanted the nunchucks.
So, who did make Hangzo? Apparently it runs on Data East arcade tech, but some places list Hot-B as the developer. A collaborative effort that didn’t pan out, possibly, and it doesn’t feel like the work of a top-tier developer so Hot-B seems as reasonable an option as any other.

Hangzo has a story, but I can’t read it because it’s in Japanese. That said, if the story isn’t “city is taken over by an evil dictator and only the three ninjas of the Hangzo Squad can save the day” then I’ll eat my Shinobi cartridge. Just once I’d like the story to be “why are we taking orders? We’re ninjas, we can conquer the city ourselves and transform it into a paradise of endless shurikens and katana polish!”

There are three playable ninjas to chose from: big blue Hanzo (the veteran of the team at the ripe old age of 20,) Kotaroh with the vertiginous hair on the left and Kasumi, the lady ninja. Naturally I assumed these three characters would fall into the usual arcade game spectrum of the fast but weak one, the slow but powerful one and the average all-rounder, but Hangzo neatly sidesteps this cliché by having all the characters be essentially interchangeable.

And away we go, taking the fight against the evil “Mr. K” onto the city streets. Hanzo uses his sword to cut down the gun emplacement ahead of him and for a moment I’m confused, because I was certain that Hangzo was going to be a typical side-scrolling beat-em-up. It isn’t. It’s a single-plane run-n-slash adventure with some light platforming, much more akin to Ninja Gaiden than Golden Axe. As well as using your sword to attack nearby enemies, you can use the other attack button to sling a shuriken for ranged damage. You can also hold the shuriken button down, and I thought this was Hanzo “charging” his shuriken attack but the projectile doesn’t seem to do any extra damage. Holding the button can still be useful, though, because it allows you to keep a shuriken at the ready so you can release it when an enemy hops into your path.
Oh, and you can jump, too. However, if you double-tap the jump button…

...your character produces a rope from somewhere and proceeds to swing across the screen with their foot extended. A dangerous, deadly foot that can be used to kick enemies to death. With this simple addition, Hangzo has already begun to endear itself to me because I’ve played so many games where the supposed ninja characters play more like people who attended an online ninja school which supplied a diploma, ninja suit and headband all for the low, low price of $899.99 per semester (throwing stars sold separately). I know it’s only one move and swinging into a fight like goddamn Tarzan is the conceptual opposite of the mysterious, shadow-clad assassin, but it feels right.

I mentioned Golden Axe earlier and now you know why it was on my mind: Hangzo offers you the chance to ride these guardian lion / komainu creatures. They look cool and their ability to fire large projectiles out of their mouths definitely comes in handy, but at a terrible cost – their slightly ungainly movements and the vague collision detection on their feet makes it more than likely that you’d ride them straight down one of the bottomless pits that litter this section of the stage.

And so goes the fighting, sometimes against demonic warriors and sometimes against fire-breathing fat blokes. In this case we’re battling in front of a boutique specialising in those hot Blade Runner fashions, and because Hanzo is surrounded I’m going to press jump and attack at the same time to activate his limited-use, screen-clearing ninja magic attack.

Did I mention the overweight chaps who breathe fire? Hangzo feels like it’s suffering from something of an identity crisis, as though it really wants to be a side-scrolling beat-em-up but accidentally became a hack-n-slash platformer instead. It’d score quite highly on the beat-em-up bingo sheet, I know that much. Given that arcade brawlers are one of my favourite genres I’m naturally a little disappointed that Hangzo isn’t that kind of game, but I’m having a good time with it so far. Ninjas in a scuzzy cyberpunk future is a theme that’s always welcome here at VGJunk, and while the action does have problems that we’ll get into later it’s all hanging together quite well in the early going.

Inevitably, there are bosses at the end of each stage. The first one is an enormous mechanical kill-bot whose imposing air of menace is undercut only slightly by it having the same wheels as a shopping trolley. Oh, but it’s got lasers, plenty of ‘em, and most of the fight is spent dodging said lasers and throwing shurikens back at the robot when you get the chance. Eventually the robot will become frustrated with using futuristic lasers that travel more slowly than even the most primitive solid-projectile technology, and it’ll try to punch you. That’s your cue to stab the robot’s hands. It’s not the most complex boss battle.

Moving onward to stage two – the “Disposal Plant” - and it’s Kasumi’s turn to flex her ninja muscles. As mentioned earlier, there’s little difference between the three characters. They all seem to move at the same speed and their attacks do the same amount of damage. They have aesthetic differences, of course – they have unique sprites and while each character’s limited-use super move simply covers the screen in damage-dealing magic, Hanzo summons a whirling wall of flame and Kasumi creates a rain of deadly flower petals, that kind of thing. The only truly unique feature of each character seems to be a special “command” move activated by pressing up and attack at the same time. Hanzo swings his sword in a wide overhead arc that hits enemies both in front of and behind him, whereas Kasumi attacks while backflipping away from whatever you’re attacking. Sadly these attacks are a little too slow to be much use, but Kasumi’s is the best of the bunch as it overs a bit of extra mobility. I’d say Kasumi is my favourite character overall, but that’s almost entirely because she looks enough like Blaze from Streets of Rage that I can pretend Kasumi is one of Blaze’s descendants, carrying on the family tradition of pummelling villains on the mean city streets.

After the relatively standard “dystopian cyber-city” of the first stage, Hangzo moves into a globby, goopy biomechanical flesh-hell vibe with stage two. Gigeresque resin growths coat the walls, multi-eyed slimes patrol the sewers and a distant relative of Zantar the Gelatinous Cube (literally) drops in to exercise his powerful digestive enzymes. I love it. There’s a part of this stage where you’re riding down an elevator and – obviously, because Hangzo is 95% a scrolling beat-em-up – enemies fall into the lift while you’re travelling. One of those enemies is a clump of brightly-coloured pustules that can reform itself into a demonic creature, and if there was ever a monster I wanted to fall into a beat-em-up elevator it would be a vicious puddle of transmogrifying boils. That’s just my kind of thing.

Also my kind of thing – this boss, a hideous fleshy mound so abstract that getting a handle on what it’s supposed to be is nigh impossible. This stage takes place in the sewers, so it’s probably for the best that we don’t know what this thing is. Besides “angry” and “murderous,” I mean. What I will say is that I once had a sinus infection so bad it gave me nosebleeds, and I’d create a clone of this boss every time I sneezed.

Moving on to stage three, where the “elevator that keeps filling with enemies” concept is taken to its logical extreme – it’s an entire stage of elevator that keeps filling with enemies! Okay, so there are actually two elevators and you ride on top of them, and the elevators move up and down independently as the stage goes on. This does help to keep the action more interesting than it might have been otherwise, because you have to move between the two lifts in order to get into advantageous robot-stabbing positions, but after the dripping, ichorous stink-scape of the last stage it’s difficult to get excited about Stairs: The Next Generation.
Oh, and I’m playing as Kotaroh now. That’s not very exciting, either. His basic attacks are slightly more vertically oriented than the other character’s horizontal slashes, maybe? I know, it’s not the kind of thing you’d splash across his advertising blurb, is it?

After that disappointingly mundane stage comes a boss that isn’t bad, per se, but doesn’t really interest me as much as a boss that looks like a verruca you’d catch in Hell’s changing room. It’s a robot dragon / griffon thing, and that’s fine. It attacks pretty much how you’d expect it to (lots of projectiles and swooping) and that’s fine too. I like its very fancy wings. And the actual battle itself was, you know, fine. My major issue was that this boss was reminding me of something and my brain kept trying to tell me I was thinking of the Dinobots from Transformers, particularly Sludge, the brontosaurus Dinobot. You can see why I was confused, because this boss is definitely bird-like and not a dinosaur. I think what it is is that the original Dinobot toys had the same silver and gold colour scheme, and when combined with the four legs and the long neck my brain’s going “I’ve seen enough, that’s definitely Sludge the Dinobot.” Screw you, brain, now I can’t judge this robo-griffon on its own merits and I’m boring anyone who’s reading this.

Stage four is another relatively bog-standard videogame location – the “factory” that builds nothing but electrical death traps and moving platforms – and once again I’m left wishing that Hangzo’s developers had gone all-out on the weirdness front instead of having yet more elevators. It’s very colourful, at least, and I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever did make Hangzo, they were (unconsciously or not) aping Konami’s nineties arcade style. The whole game feels like the first draft of a Konami arcade game, especially the visuals. The neon ninjas that are very reminiscent of Mystic Warriors, or the Contra-esque “robots and Aliens” vibe of some stages.

This stage does feature these impressively strange creatures, enemies so weird that they totally make up for the slightly bland stage design. They’re… gladiators, I think? Those helmets and loincloths are definitely making me think of Roman gladiators, but these enemies also to appear to be moulded from play-doh and they have chainsaws, which would have made the “gladiators versus lions” fights a lot more intense.

Then you hit them a few times and they inflate into grotesque humanoid balloons, with the extra-disturbing detail that only their stomachs are inflated. The rest of their bodies dangle from the back. You might be wondering what advantages this offers over “hitting people with a chainsaw” in combat, but think about it: would you want to keep hitting them in this state? There are only three possible outcomes in that situation. They either revert back to hitting you with a chainsaw, they keep expanding or they burst. None of those options are especially appealing, so you’ll be pleased to know that these enemies can do both the first and last things on that list.

The latter half of this stage features a lot more platforming, and that’s a bit of a problem. Not because the level design is bad, because although it does tend towards the blander side of the spectrum it’s certainly not infuriating or anything. In fact, Hangzo is surprisingly easy-going for an arcade game, with lots of power-ups floating by and the ability to always be throwing shurikens across the screen. No, the problem here is with the grappling and swinging abilities. Portions of this area are set up so that the best way to make progress is to swing between the dangling electric cables, timing each swing so you pass the wires at the lowest point of your swing’s arc. There’s a chance to revel in freedom of movement here, but unfortunately it’s hampered by the actual swinging. Firstly, launching your rope can be a touch fiddly and often resulted in me not swinging when I was sure I would. However, the biggest problem is that it’s very difficult to tell if you’re taking damage while swinging, because you can’t be knocked back and there’s no sound effect, so you might swing your way through an area thinking that your glowing ninja foot is clearing a path through the bad guys, only for you to land on the other side and realise you’ve lost three-quarters of your health bar. Hitboxes feel especially ill-defined when you’re swinging, and because you travel quite a long distance when swinging it can be impossible to avoid enemies that appear when the screen scrolls.
It’s a real shame, because the swinging mechanic is so close to being a lot of fun, but the frustrations and niggling awkwardness of it means that taking things slowly and picking off enemies from a distance is by far the more efficient method of making progress.

Now this boss I do recognise: it’s Final Fantasy V’s recurring superboss Omega! Or a distant relation thereof, at the very least. They get together at murderbot family reunions, which this boss hates because all the other murderbots keep saying things like “Did you hear about your cousin Omega? He’s in them Final Fantasies now! The big time! His parents must be so proud. And how are you doing, Hangzo Boss Unit 04? Still working on that novel about the young college student who falls in love with her older professor who is also a cycloptic murderbot? Well, good for you, buddy.”

The final stage is President K’s Room, and it’s a bit of a cop-out, what with it just being a flat corridor where our heroes are attacked by conveyor belts and the Google Chrome logo. The backgrounds are nice, at least, as they have been for the majority of the game; well-drawn even when they’re just elevators or factories.
President K has an appreciation of fine art, at any rate. Ancient samurai armour is reverently displayed, a calming bamboo grove breathe life into his mansion and he’s even got a Playmobil horse over there on the left.

Go on, admit it. The first thing you though of was Sagat’s stage from Street Fighter II.
The final stage has a “boss rush” feel to it, even though mostly you’re fighting regular enemies, and as the lead-up to the cataclysmic clash of good and evil it’s about as exciting as folding laundry. The swinging mechanic is now totally redundant, the fights are all things you’ve seen before and it feels very rushed and unfinished, which is presumably the reason Hangzo never received a full release.

President K, then. President of what? The United States? His local wine club, which he hates running because it’s all become so pretentious? Who knows. He’s got a big steampunk thing behind his desk that’s making me remember The Chaos Engine and he flaps around the screen, lazily throwing projectiles like a cheap Halloween decoration that had to be recalled because it put some poor kid’s eye out.

After a few hits, President K reveals his true form: a hideous demon with wings, dragon heads as supplementary wings and the furry underpants found on most He-Man action figures. Again, he does little but flap around throwing projectiles only, you know, more dangerously. Not that dangerously, though, and I have to say that Hangzo’s bosses are strange in that they seem to get easier as the game progresses. In my experience, President K just kept trying to summon lightning bolts that you could easily position yourself in between while jumping up to slash at him, so he must have become president thanks to his business and political acumen rather than raw fighting power.

And that’s your lot. Hangzo ends as it began: with the same artwork from the intro of the heroes standing on a rooftop, only this time K’s tower is collapsing. Then you get a brief piece of text and Hangzo is over.

Despite there being a high score table during the attract mode, I was not allowed to enter my initials so obviously Hangzo isn’t worth bothering with.
I’m kidding, of course. Hangzo is worth bothering with, and the fact that it’s available in a playable form at all is fantastic. It’s hardly a fantastic game; it’s a bit too obvious, a touch ramshackle for that, but I reckon all it needed to be a genuinely good game was a bit more time in the proverbial oven. With more time spent on buffing out the problems with the swinging and the hitboxes, a little more care poured into fleshing out the game’s short run-time with more engaging stages and a final level that’s not a flat corridor, I reckon Hangzo could easily fall into the “hidden gem” category. As it stands, it’s simply a fun little romp with some excellent enemy designs that I would recommend playing through with a friend if for some insane reason you’re bored of Capcom’s Alien versus Predator.

P.S.: as I'm in the middle of the miserable experience that is "looking for a job" I hope you'll forgive a rare reminder that you can donate to VGJunk if you like the site. Please only do this if you are an eccentric millionaire.



I never really took to the Mortal Kombat series, you know. I played it a bunch in my youth, especially Mortal Kombat 3 because a friend owned it so we ended up playing a lot of the versus mode, but it felt like a poor relation when compared to the likes of Street Fighter II and SNK’s fighting games. The gameplay always felt kinda stodgy and unsatisfying to me and the digitised graphics put me off. Sorry, Mortal Kombat fans. Please don’t take my lack of interest as a criticism of your preferences, and if you do like Mortal Kombat then here are a bunch of magazine covers featuring the slaughtertastic punch-em-up series!

Nintendo Magazine System

Starting off with a pretty straightforward cover in an art style that’s perfectly good and does a fine job of representing these famous Mortal Kombat… you know, for a second I nearly wrote it as “kharacters” but forget that. I refuse to replace hard Cs with Ks until the games’ developers realise their mistake and rename Scorpion to Skorpion. Consistency is all I ask for.
But yeah, this is a solid cover, even if I question the decision to put Goro’s crotch directly in the centre of the image. It certainly does draw the eye towards it. Oh, and Kano’s knives look way too much like those plastic glow in the dark “haunted murderer” knives you get at Halloween to be threatening. Or perhaps that’s the point. If Kano can kill you with toy knifes that come in a set with a Ghostface mask and a bottle of fake blood, imagine the damage he could do with the real thing!

Nintendo Magazine System

Speaking of Kano, here he is again, sporting a forehead so vast I’m amazed a Texan land baron hasn’t tried to purchase it for cattle grazing space. Guile doesn’t look impressed. Mike Haggar looks like he always looks – absolutely furious all the time, which is great for fighting street punks but probably less helpful when he has to cut the ribbon at Metro City Hospital’s new maternity ward.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

Guile and Kano – I didn’t intend for this article to be so Kano-centric thus far, I swear – are paired up again, this time as djinn who have swapped the magical lamp for a Sega Saturn and a PlayStation respectively. You rub the consoles and out they pop, ready to grant a wish as long as that wish is “I’d like to see some scowling, please.”


At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kano is Mortal Kombat’s main character. He really isn’t, although the decision to have a heart-removing criminal with a cybernetic face as the star would have been a refreshingly bold move. But who is Mortal Kombat’s main character? I always assumed it was Liu Kang, based on the usual fighting game hero metric of him being a boring kung fu man, but Liu Kang seems to get much less focus than Raiden the thunder god or the palette-swap ninjas, especially Sub Zero and Scorpion. I suppose it’s simply that Mortal Kombat doesn’t have a focal character in the vein of Street Fighter’s Ryu or Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard.
As for this cover, it’s another perfectly acceptable comic-book illustration, and yet again Kano’s forehead has grown like the mighty oak. Sonya Blade’s spine is having a rough time at the (four) hands of Goro, and it’s those hands that interest me most about this image: are his nails black because he managed to accidentally slam all of them in a car door, or did he take the time to paint them before stepping onto the field of battle? Actually, painting your nails would be pretty great with four hands, you’d always have a pair free to use while you wait for the other pair to dry.

Sega Master Force

What do we think? Was the decision to have Goro cupping the “pull-out poster” blurb in a manner very reminiscent of a Street Fighter throwing a hadoken an intentional reference to Capcom’s fighting franchise, or was it merely a coincidence that I picked up on because I’ve wasted years of my life playing videogames and absorbing their ephemera? You decide!

Electronic Games

I would very much like someone to attempt to draw a picture of Ryu’s skull based on the physiology presented in this image. I was also interested to learn that Raiden’s lighting powers are the celestial equivalent of a joy buzzer. Neither of these two videogame titans really look like they’re into it, do they? It all seems a bit half-hearted, which is a good metaphor for the “Street Fighter versus Mortal Kombat!” rivalry – or the rivalry between any two similar videogames franchises or competing consoles. These things were endlessly talked up in the games media of the time, especially Sega versus Nintendo, and while I remember the occasional argument it’s my recollection that most people I knew back then were aware you could like both things. All the kids I knew would have killed to have a SNES and a MegaDrive and only didn’t because of the cost. Of course, in the case of Street Fighter II versus Mortal Kombat it’s absolutely no contest and Street Fighter blows Mortal Kombat out of the water.


In which Kano is extremely amused to see Sub-Zero skanking towards him like an over-excited teenager at their first Reel Big Fish gig. I can hear the trumpets while looking at this picture.


Moving on to Mortal Kombat II, and this cover is almost arranged in the formation that Warhammer 40,000 fans would call a “battle pile” - everyone clumped together in a large mound of furious rage and dangerously impractical bladed weapons. I’m mostly thinking of Kung Lao and his razor-brimmed hat. All the Shaolin monks sitting around, watching Goldfinger and saying “you know, I think that Oddjob chap was on to something.” Now that’s an origin story.

Nintendo Power

Most of the covers so far have been goofy comic book fun, but then Nintendo Power comes out with a genuinely disturbing take on Scorpion. For once the undead assassin looks like a creature raised up from hell rather than a Halloween costume with another Halloween mask under the ninja costume. It’s the eyes that do it, clouded and blank. It’s such an effective look, in fact, that it took me a long time to notice the very ugly dragon at the top of the cover. The dragon is probably upset that Milky-Eyed Corpse Scorpion is hogging all the attention that dragons usually get.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

This is definitely my favourite cover of the lot. Three serious-looking warriors, plus the sword-armed wasteland mutant Baraka, who is throwing said sword-arms around his pals as they have a their photo taken in a gesture of camaraderie so pure and wholesome it makes you overlook Baraka being a sword-armed wasteland mutant. “Man, this vacation has been the best,” says Baraka, “I love you guys. I can’t wait until next year’s trip!”


A wide variety of Mortal Kombat characters (plus Sonic the Hedgehog) appear on this cover, from familiar faces like Johnny Cage to… a buff tiger man? I don’t remember there being any buff tiger men in Mortal Kombat, although to be fair I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game since MK Trilogy so there’s probably at least a couple of buff animal men in the roster by now. Intrigued, I looked up this issue of the magazine and found that the tiger-man was originally intended to be a playable character called Kintaro who was later cut. According to the magazine feature, the reason he was cut was that “a costume of this magnitude simply wasn’t feasible,” which seems odd when you consider Mortal Kombat II did have a character called Kintaro and they’re another hulking brute with four arms.


See? There’s Kintaro now, looking extremely unimpressed by M. Bison’s punches. I’d have thought “extra limbs” would make a costume much more infeasible that slapping a tiger mask and some body paint on an actor wearing a robe, but then I don’t know anything about the complicated process of creating videogames.

Tips and Tricks

I saw at least four magazine covers that were nothing but this image of Raiden, which definitely wouldn’t be enough to get me interested in Mortal Kombat II. On the whole I find MK’s characters to be a fairly bland bunch (although, again, I haven’t played the modern games so they might be more interesting) and Raiden is one of those that never really did anything for me. I’m not saying all Mortal Kombat characters are boring – obviously I can appreciate a skull-headed assassin from hell as much as the next kid who grew up watching eighties horror movies – but I think part of the problem is the digitised graphics. When I look at a Street Fighter or Tekken character I see the character, but when I look at a Mortal Kombat fighter I see person in a “mid-budget television show” costume and that doesn’t do much to create mystique.

Mega Force

I will say this for MK’s cast, though: they do their own thing. How many fighting games of the time did you see with karate-gi-wearing Ryu lookalikes or Brazilian beastmen? Mortal Kombat’s fighters are a unique bunch, at least, and that’s to be commended. On this cover we can see a few of them in a hand-drawn style that’s much more appealing to me than any number of publicity photos of Raiden. It took me a while to realise what Shang Tsung was reminding me of, but eventually it clicked that I’m sure I saw a very similar design on some of the graffiti / “hip-hop” t-shirt of the kind a lot of kids used to wear when I was growing up in the early nineties. Except on the t-shirt that character would be holding a spray-can and wearing a baggy t-shirt rather than a vest, of course.

Great Dragon

Russian mag “Great Dragon” now, and stark, abstract weirdness is the name of the game. I’m sure the Mortal Kombat dragon logo is familiar even to videogame fans who haven’t played the games, and here it is floating near two orbs that might be… planets? Moons? Is this because the magazine also covers Dune 2 and this was the artist’s way of combining the disparate elements of grand interstellar saga and gore-drenched punchathon? Mortal Kombat X Dune, now there’s one hell of a crossover event for you to ponder. “My name is a killing word, but if that doesn’t work then Jax here has powerful cybernetic arms, they should get the job done.”


“First look at the new Sub-Zero” is the big draw here, and I assume it’s like the cliche about a dowdy woman taking off her glasses and letting her hair down. Why Sub-Zero, you’re beautiful!

Super Game Power

Here’s Mortal Kombat antagonist Shao Kahn. He’s a brutal warlord who crushes his enemies – that is, pretty much anyone who’s not Shao Kahn – with his incredible strength and a bloody great hammer. He has a vague samurai feel to his design, a Darth Vader-style helmet made of bones and yes, okay, I’m skirting around the obvious problem here. His skull-mask’s lack of a lower jaw means I can’t help seeing Shao Kahn as having a severely pronounced overbite. Once I’d seen this image I was unable to stop imagining Shao Kahn shouting “Hyuk hyuk!” like sodding Goofy. Like, there’s nothing wrong with the technical execution of this artwork but it’s hard to take a character seriously when they’ve got the maxillary structure of a lost Beavis and Butt-Head character.


Back to some less giggle-inducing artwork, with Scorpion and Mileena (I think?) engaged in a gruesome battle to the death. A death that’ll involve one of the fighters swaying around on the spot for a while before collapsing into a heap because I couldn’t remember the button input for a Fatality, if my MK-playing experiences are anything to go by.
The artwork’s good, even if Scorpion’s weapon looks less like a harpoon and more like the world’s most useless shovel, but it did send me on a little quest. I thought the art style looked familiar, which is weird because I am terrible at picking out a particular artist’s look. So, I looked up this issue of GamePro, found out that the cover artist is called John Estes and then spend a wasted half an hour looking for my Hellraiser comics because I was sure Estes had done some work on them. That’s just the kind of exciting, fast-paced life I lead, folks. Anyway, it turns out it was actually the much more famous Alex Ross in the Hellraiser comics, and also I can’t find my Hellraiser comics. You should check them out some time if you like the Hellraiser movies, some of them are rather good and definitely a lot more fun than watching the later Hellraiser movies. Then again, so is rolling around in a bottle bank with live centipedes in your underwear.


Another cover with artwork that I’d describe as – and I mean this completely without negative connotations - “charmingly amateurish,” this time from Brazilian mag Gamers. I’m sure I’ve seen Sonya’s kicking pose somewhere before, and my brain’s screaming “Cynthia Rothrock movie” at me so maybe that’s it but as we’ve established I’m really bad at picking these things out. The evil queen Sindel is also here, with an outfit that looks like it’s be very uncomfortable on the ol’ bosoms and a hairdo that seems almost toned down from the games, where she sports a barnet that you could confidently slap on a character that was a parody of either Elvira or a washed-up country-and-western singer. Reptile is here too, but based on his expression he hasn’t got a clue why he’s here.


Finally for today, I’d like to close out with a lame joke that I’m always happy to reuse. Ready? Ahem…
“He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.



All right, friendos, it’s time to get pumped, get psyched, get positively giddy at the prospect of yet another videogame about rescuing a princess. Yes, another one. As we all know, being the female heir to a royal linage is a job second only to “salmon salesperson at a bear convention” in the danger stakes, but at least today’s game casts the emotional response to a regal abduction as something besides “heroic dutifulness” - it’s Atlantis Software’s 1989 ZX Spectrum waddle-em-up Heartbroken!

Looks like our hero was in love with the princess and her kidnapping has hit him hard, but he’s not going to sit around and mope. He’s going to… erm, what is he going to do? The loading screen suggests his plan involves putting star-shaped stickers in a blank book, making his own keys using a casting process and drinking a strange blue liquid that I’m going to assume is one of those soft drinks you might remember from your childhood. You know, the ones that were described with worrying vagueness as being “bubblegum” flavoured, although a more accurate description might be “Bertie Bassett’s bathwater.”

For a ZX Spectrum game, Heartbroken gives you some surprisingly in-depth information before you start the game. The plot is exactly the plot you think it is – evil warlock kidnaps princess for ransom, young hero / love interest sets out to save her – but at least you’re given a little more information than that. For instance, we learn that the hero is the direct successor to Merlin himself. Quite the impressive pedigree, and the upshot is that Merlin has given us his spellbook. He’s also given us his “firebolt,” and as that’s listed separately from the spellbook I have to assume the firebolt isn’t a spell at all and Merlin’s legend came about because he was the first person to invent a gun.

The warlock is not the imposing villain I thought he would be. It’s difficult to be intimidated by a floating dressing gown.

You even get a page for each of the game’s enemies, all packed with vital facts. Hang on, let me write this down, I might need to refer to it later. “The castle guards guard the castle.” Okay, got it.

We’re underway, and the action begins in the always-compelling environs of a moonlit graveyard. We’re in control of the stocky chap with the Ramones haircut in the centre of the screen. When the game first began I assumed I’d be in control of the bloke on the left, but disappointingly that’s not the case. That person is merely an aesthetic flourish, providing no danger or utility but simply enlivening the scene as they struggle to haul themselves out of their coffin. Undead creature rising to hunt warm flesh in the moonlight, or victim of a less-than-thorough autopsy and premature burial? I suppose we’ll never know. I’d go over there and check, but the grey tombstone is blocking my path and our hero can’t jump. There’s no jumping at all in Heartbroken, and it honestly took a while to get used to being so totally grounded.

And so we walk, travelling through Heartbroken’s game world by beating feet and achieving vertical movement solely through the use of ladders. The “mostly a platformer with collectible items and the slight tinge of puzzles” is a staple of this era of home computer games – think of titles such as the Dizzy games or Olli and Lissa – and frankly it’s not a genre I’ve ever really enjoyed all that much. I put this down to my own lack of focus, and I’d rather have a platformer or a graphic adventure without the two being smushed together.  Heartbroken’s doing okay so far, though. Our hero moves around quite quickly, and the backgrounds have that spooky, Halloween-as-filtered-through-the-Spectrum’s-aggressive-colour-palette look to them that I never tire of.

While climbing up this small tower, I encountered the first monster with the temerity to get in my way. This chunky ogre might seem like a threat, but it can’t do anything except walk back and forth. Touching the monster is immediately fatal, of course, but you can launch your firebolt by hitting the space bar and there’s nothing the ogres can do to get out of the way. In fact, the closer they are to you the better, because you can only have one projectile on screen at a time, so the closer you are the faster you can fire.

It took me a moment to open the door that my memory was furiously hammering against, but eventually I realised that this section is just stage two of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I mean, it’s really easy as opposed to GnG’s vicious difficulty level and the protagonist is somehow even less manoeuvrable than Arthur the human anvil, but the inspiration is clear.

There’s a spellbook at the top of the tower. You might think finding a book of spells is redundant when you already have the ability to shoot fireballs out of your hands, but who knows what fiendish traps and diabolical creatures the evil warlock has waiting for us?

Well, there are these flying monsters, for one thing. Based on the previously-noted similarities to Ghosts ‘n Goblins I suppose these are Heartbroken’s equivalent of the hated Red Arremer. They do indeed attack by swooping down towards the player and when you can’t jump to shoot them in mid-air that could be dangerous, but thankfully they’re not nearly as intelligent as the Red Arremer and can be mostly avoided by walking past them at a brisk pace. If that doesn’t work, you can try leaving the screen and re-entering. A lot of the monsters appear in fixed positions by most of the flyers seem semi-random, so if you move back and forth between screens enough they might not appear at all. Definitely one of Hell’s lesser demons, then, but they’re trying their best, bless them. Okay, not bless them, they’re still demons.

Roughly at the centre of Heartbroken’s game worlds stands another, larger, tower, identifiable by its extreme blueness and the skull decorations on the walls. Those skulls look like they have two sets of pincers instead of teeth, which is a fun design for those of you out there who like to draw monsters. What else have we got in this room? There’s a large red statue that the intro calls a “giant troll.” Supposedly they stop you from entering the catacombs, but so far I’ve only been able to travel upwards and you can’t call somewhere a catacomb if it’s above ground level, right? I don’t think that’s allowed. Oh, and the warlock is also here, hanging around at the left of the screen. The warlock’s deal is that he appears out of nowhere from time to time and fires a magical death-bolt at you. You can’t harm the warlock, so once again the best solution is to move back to a previous screen when you see him. When you return, the warlock probably won’t be there any more.

Plus there’s this yellow monster, just hanging around and not threatening the player or anything. Naturally, I threw a firebolt at its head. Nothing happened. It appears that this monster is nothing more than background flavour, and that’s fine. I shouldn’t be projecting behavioural patterns onto this thing just because it looks like Satan’s bedbug, I don't know anything about how it lives its life.

The blue castle is mildly maze-like in design, but it all boils down to picking the correct ladder to climb and it’s not big enough to get lost in, so it didn’t take me long to find the “bottle of elixir” that was presumably the entire point of venturing into this monster-infested edifice.

Over on the far-right of the game world now – that is, about three screens away from the centre of the game world – and there’s another castle. I know it’s a castle, because the castle guards are guarding it. See, I did pay attention. Although not enough attention, apparently, because I now found myself completely stuck. The castle gates are closed and didn’t seem inclined to open even after I firebolted a full regiment of the infinitely-spawning castle guards. I wandered back and forth through the previously-visited areas for a while before giving up and looking up a solution.

You know how people say “it’s obvious once you know the answer?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here. I knew exactly where I was going and I still got lost because you see that gravestone on the left? Okay, do you see that small patch of differently-coloured dirt below it? Turns out you can climb down at that spot as though there were a ladder there. I would never have spotted that, and I’m the kind of person who is naturally intrigued by disturbed earth at the foot of a tombstone.

Underneath the grave is Merlin’s magic cauldron. So this is Merlin’s grave, then? I thought he was trapped inside a rock by the Lady of the Lake. Whatever magical prison has become his tomb, I’m sure Merlin won’t mind us making use of his cauldron, and by walking up to it we can cycle through a list of spells. The spells cost points to use, so it’s a good job I took the time to shoot all the ogres I saw rather than avoiding them.
The most obviously useful spell is “portcullis,” which had better open the bloody castle doors otherwise I really will be stuck. There’s a “shield” spell that gives you an extra life, and a few other, less immediately obvious incantations. Snapdragon, alchemy and banishment are a little vague but hopefully I’ll figure them out. For now, though, I’m going to hit “teleport” and see where I end up because the game sure isn’t telling me.

Oh, it teleports you back to the castle. That’s actually really useful. And yes, the castle gates are now open, so I can simply walk inside and start blasting away at the castle guards, who have no way to defend themselves from my magical onslaught. Unlike the other enemies they respawn continually, but all that does is further increase my mystical powers by giving me more points to spend on spells.

Up and down the castle we go, most of the time spent climbing ladders and pausing to throw a few firebolts at the guards. It helps to keep them on their toes. One thing of interest in the castle is this room labelled “prison” where a monster has been locked away in a cage. Makes you wonder what crimes it committed to be incarcerated in a world where most monsters are free to roam the streets and... okay, so roaming the street is about all they do, but they’re free and this one isn’t. And imprisoned without food, too, it must hve been one hell of a monster crime.

There’s also an impassable dragon – although I’d also accept “fancy crocodile” as a description – blocking my path to the castle’s upper reaches. It’s deadly to the touch but it doesn’t actively try to hurt you, and why would it? It’s a dragon, it’s got nothing to prove to you. Unfortunately I need to get past the dragon, and now I’m regretting not casting the “snapdragon” spell while I was at the cauldron because I bet that’s what you have to do and now I have to walk all the way back to the second screen of the game.

Yep, that fixed it. The dragon will now let me pass unmolested, and I even managed to reach the kidnapped princess, who is caged high atop the castle. It’s a ruddy good cage, too. All these magical powers at my command and I still can’t force it open. I definitely need a key, even though I can shoot fireballs out of my hands, soothe savage dragons and remotely operate the castle portcullis with the ease of someone using a garage door opener. I guess the princess will just have to wait while I find a key. She looks comfortable enough in there. With that pointy hat, she also looks more like a wizard than any of the wizards in this game.

In a different, less locked part of the castle, I found the mould for a key. I’m sure that I can use the elixir and the key mould to free the princess, but I need some kind of forge to heat up the components. Maybe the fire underneath the cauldron will work, he muttered to himself as he trudged back to the start of the game again to cast the alchemy spell. That’s how you make the key, which is rather cheapening the art of alchemy. Transmuting base metals into gold or a creating a homunculus is alchemy; making keys is called “being a cobbler,” or at least I’ve never had a key cut somewhere that didn’t also repair shoes. Anyway, it’s a bloody good job you can use the teleportation spell to get back to the castle otherwise Heartbroken might have started to grind on my patience a little.

The princess is free, the lovers are reunited and the warlock’s plans are thwarted before he’s even had time to cut enough letters out of the newspaper for the ransom note. It turns out that our hero’s main powers are briskness and efficiency.

“Well done,” says the talking sword. Thanks, talking sword. Then the game gave me the rank of “Excalibur” and Heartbroken is over. Unless you want to play through it again, in which case you can go back to the start and enjoy a second loop where the locations of the items you need to collect have been shuffled around. That’s one way to add a bit of longevity to a game that is very short and not particularly complicated, but don’t take that as a criticism. I enjoyed Heartbroken and I mostly enjoyed it because it took me about half an hour to complete, and it would have been half that if I’d known about the hidden tombstone ladder. It’s a very simplistic game, but I got some pleasure from scuttling through its nicely spooky backdrops and baiting enemies into more advantageous positions to make up for my lack of jumping ability. A fun way to pass a little time, then. It’s like a nice cheese sandwich: unlikely to break into your list of the greatest meals you’ve ever eaten, but a satisfying and wholesome choice none-the-less. I say wholesome, one of my favourite things about it was the little animation of the noose swaying in the wind.

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