13/09/2014

FIST FIGHTER (COMMODORE 64)

I played Top Fighter 200 MK VIII and yeah, it was an experience. The weird and copyright-infringing character roster was fun, you had special moves, it was alright. Alright just doesn't cut it, though. It wasn't bad enough. I've been playing Streets of Rage and Doom this week, games that are so good that I feel I've build up a layer of psychic armour thick enough to allow me to get through something really bad. And where do you turn for bad games but the 8-bit home computers of the Eighties? Well, yes, the Game Boy Color, but I did a GBC game recently so shut up and "enjoy" this Commodore 64 title instead: Zeppelin Games' 1993 we-tried-to-copy-Street-Fighter-II-but-failed-badly-em-up Fist Fighter!

The art on the loading screen is nice, at any rate. It's also oddly familiar. I'm not saying that the artist ripped it off from a movie poster or something, but I'm also not saying I'd be surprised if they did. It's got a certain Jean-Claude van Damme-iness to it, like if the guy could speak he'd have a inexplicable Belgian accent. Good work on the lettering of the title, too. It'd be a great logo for an energy drink made from crisp mountain water and bovine hormones.


So much for the decent graphics. I've done enough childminding that I can confirm that this screen is the same colour as infant diahorrea. Was that your plan, Zeppelin Games? Lure people in with the relatively competent loading screen art and then bam, right into a world of colours that share their hue with the bodily fluids of a very ill person, knowing full well that the player won't quit the game because they've just waited twenty minutes for the bloody thing to load from tape and by God they're going to play something? Well, it worked. I'm going to play Fist Fighter, although I might do so with my eyes closed.
This title screen includes various common fighting game variables, so you can change the number of rounds and the difficulty if you're into that kind of thing. You can also select your character here, from the five available in the game. I'm going to show them to you now.


At top we have Jay-Cee, a tour guide from the UK because sure, why not? Even tour guides like to strip down to their underwear and punch people from time to time, even if it;' only people who have wandered away from the group or are trying to chip off a piece of the T. Rex skeleton as a souvenir. Hang on, Jay-Cee? JC? As in... Jean-Claude van Damme? My god, I think I was onto something with the loading art. His special move is the Skittle Roll, which is as pathetic to look at as it sounds, and I think he's the closest Fist Fighter gets to a main character.
Second is Merrick, the Brazillian freak with the deformed head who can shoot bolts of psychic energy with his very mind, a technique that's a damn sight more impressive than the primary-school gymnastics Jay-Cee has to offer. Merrick is presumably named after Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man.


Next up is Otis. Otis is a very slightly altered version of Jay-Cee. Don't be fooled by the description of his "speciality," there is nothing super about his punch unless you count it being super difficult to connect with.
Below him is Gino, the Italian stereotype whose portait looks like character artwork from a bootleg version of Grand Theft Auto. He's a pizza dude, because he's Italian. I don't know if "pizza dude" means he's a pizza delivery man or someone who's just, like, really into pizza but, again, he's Italian so it's probably the latter. His speciality is "knife". I'm suprised it's not "pizza cutter," if I'm honest.


Last and quite possibly least there's Lee Chung, a Nepalese man with a Chinese name who uses a Japanese martial art because hey, it's all Asia, right? I don't have anything else to say about Lee Chung. I was going to make a Wang Chung joke, but nothing came to mind. Nobody Have Fun Tonight? Nah, I'm not going to force it.
Time to get into the action, and I decided to pick Gino because that's where my cursor had stopped. Having access to a knife seemed like it might be quite useful, too.


All right, here we go - Gino vs. Merrick fighting it out in what is apparently Egypt but could equally be one of those Star Wars sets in Tunisia they left to fall into ruin. We've got a timer, yellow health bars and one on one combat, I reckon I can figure this out.


Nope, I couldn't figure it out. I was trying to get away from Merrick, but all I seemed to be doing was accdentally performing an unnecessarily complex spinning kick. When I wasn't pirouettting around like my shoes were filled with ball-bearings, I was throwing punches with microscopic range that Merrick countered by being four inches away (where I couldn't reach him) and battering me with his mind-bullets. Notice I said he was named after the Elephant Man and based on him, because I don't think the Elephant Man had psychokinetic powers. Maybe in the movie, it was directed by David Lynch.


After handing me a humiliating "perfect" defeat, Merrick slips into some ugly misogyny by implying that I'm a girl and am therefore not good at fighting. I think you'll find that I'm bad at fighting because I don't have a bloody clue what's going on and it had nothing to do with my gender, thank you very much. Gino responds to this cruel barb with a bit of flirting. Did I mention he's Italian?


After consulting the instruction manual, I leapt back into the fray, this time taking control of Lee Chung. Jay-Cee is his opponent in a contest of karate versus the noble martial art of rolling around like a great big tit and wearing ankle socks while you do it.
Okay, so I should probably talk about the gameplay, I suppose. One of the big hurdles of getting a game of this type to work on the C64 is overcoming the limitations of the single-button controller, and Fist Fighter does this through the usual method of having different actions performed by the joystick when the fire button is pushed down and when it isn't. The obvious solution in this case would be for the joystick to move your fighter when the fire button isn't being pressed and for it to make them attack when you hold fire while pressing different directions, but the author of this game thought that would be too straightforward and so mashed the movement and punching controls together into one big mess.


For example, just pressing diagonally up-right on the joystick makes you punch at your enemy's head. Holding fire and pressing up-right unleashes a high kick. The sharper-witted amongst you may have noticed that this leaves no provision for jumping towards your enemy, a staple movement in every fighting game (no matter how many times you get shoryukened while doing it). Instead, to jump towards your opponent you have to press up to jump straight up and them move the stick sideways while airborne to sort of... slide around in the air. You've got quite a lot of control while you're up there, too, giving what little aerial combat there is an unpleasantly floaty feel.


Still, armed with the manual, I managed get enough of a handle on what I was doing to cause Jay-Cee some harm. The leg sweep was quite effective at first, but after a while Jay-Cee would see it coming and hop backwards away from it. I tried again and again to kick my rival in the foot, but he just keep prancing backwards until he was up against the right-hand side of the screen, where he just jumped over my kicks instead of away from them. I kicked, he jumped, ad infinitum. Then I noticed I had more health than Jay-Cee, and that I'd left the fight timer option set to "on". Surely the computer wouldn't be stupid enough to simply jump over and over again until the time ran out and I won by virute of having more health?


That is, in fact, exactly what happened. The AI really is that bad, but as I'm more of a scholar than a warrior I'm going to claim this one as a victory for intellect over brawn. I thought my way to victory. Because "thought" sounds like "fought," you see. It does when I say it, at least, but then again my enuciation is terrible.


To the victor go the spoils, and in this case I'm the victor and the spoils are a scene of some juvenile bickering. "Muuum, Jay-Cee tried to beat me up and then he said my face needs improving, tell him!" It's no "you must defeat my Dragon Punch to stand a chance" but these After-Match Abuse sections are the only part of Fist Fighter likely to raise even the smallest of smiles.
Now I just have to beat the other fighters to clear the standard Arcade mode that every one-v-one fighter is based around, right?


Ha ha, no. No no no. Fist Fighter doesn't go in for anything as fancy as letting the player fight their way through a series of bouts before being crowned the champion. You just pick two fighters, have a match and then return to the menu screen to do it all again or, as an acceptable alternative, feed your Fist Fighter casette into the nearest paper shredder or garbage disposal unit.
I'm not quite finished with this one yet, though, not when there's a whole world of poor design choices to enjoy.


One of Fist Fighter's more egregious gameplay flaws is that the characters are very reluctant to get up off the floor. If you're knocked down by an attack - something that happens a lot considering every move that isn't a basic punch to the head knocks you down - your fighter spends a good four or five seconds struggling to their feet while the characters' positions are reset to be a screen's width apart. Four or five seconds may not sound like a long time, but in a fighting game it might as well be three weeks. I have won entire rounds in Street Fighter II in four or five seconds. Waiting for your character to get the hell up ends up constituting about sixty percent of Fist Fighter's playing time, turning a game that was already slow and very stop-start into a cheerless death-march through a tar pit.


Otis' trash-talking could use some work, although I'm fond Gino's response because I can't tell if he's being sarcastic or if it's a pathetic attempt to stave off further beatings. He's polite about it, at least.


Then there are the special moves. Every fighter has one, activated by holding the fire button and pressing down-left on the joystick... or rather, by holding fire, moving the stick and then letting go of the fire button. I think that's how they work, anyway; getting them to come out consistently was a skill I never quite got down.
Pictured above is Jay-Cee's "Skittle Roll," where he curls up into a ball and slowly rolls into his opponent's ankles. Took a lot of martial arts training to master that one, did it? I have to imagine Blanka is standing just off screen and slowly shaking his head in disgust. The other fighter's specials aren't much better, and each of them have huge flaws that render them almost useless against the computer. The skittle roll can be avoided by jumping into it, because it only damages you if both feet are firmly planted on the floor when it connects. Otis' super punch admittedly does a lot of damage if it lands, but as it has a range that's best measured in microns that's a moot point. Lee Chung's whirlwind kick is a couple of the spinning kicks that every fighter can do, only in a row and with a much longer start-up period.


Merrick and Gino both have projectiles, which are by far the most useful special moves but which are still hardly stellar. You can see Merrick's psychic blast in the screenshot above, it's the pink thing that looks like the ghost of a horsehoe crab, an aquatic spirit seeking vengeance for all its brothers and sister who died thanks to humans harvesting their blood. You can also see that Jay-Cee has easily ducked underneath it: the problems with the projectiles is that they have a huge start-up delay, giving you opponent plenty of time to not get hit by them. I can cut Merrick some slack on this, because there music be some effort involved in channelling the essense of your mind into a tangible thing and then launching it out of your face, but Gino has no excuse.


Gino throws a knife, right? Simple, nice and straightforward. Except before he throws it, he stands there for a couple of seconds while he tries to fish the bloody thing out of his pocket. What, have you got your house keys / breath mints / mobile phone / Pizza Lover's Club membership card in there too, getting in the way? If you're going to use a knife in a fight, get it out before the fight starts, don't waste my time and yours by rummaging around in your pocket like someone scrambling for their bus fare while the driver tuts at them.


Too right you weren't concentrating, you were too busy enjoying your little pocket spelunking expedition. Even when I did manage to throw a knife at Jay-Cee, he simply rolled underneath it. Also, I had forgotten Jay-Cee was supposed to be British until I read his dialogue here. Not only is he British, but he's from the Victorian era, apparently.


I am glad the background of the America stage says DINER on it in big yellow letters, because otherwise I would have assumed I was fighting in front of a crashed UFO made from old jukeboxes. No, wait, that sounds much better than brawling outside a greasy spoon. Nuts.
Speaking of nuts, a lot of the fighting in this game devolves into the computer trying to punch you in the testicles. I suppose that kind of thing will happen with an all-male cast.


Look, man, this giant psychic freak just kicked the crap out of you, do you really think this is the time to be dissing his fighting abilities? The very fighting abilities he has used to rearrange you face, not that you can really tell with these graphics? Or maybe Jay-Cee is genuinely interested in Merrick's 10th-Dan black belt granny. Why isn't she in this game? She couldn't possibly have been less interesting than these chumps.


That's pretty much it for Fist Fighter, the worst fighting game I've ever played that isn't Rise of the Robots: a cynical Street Fighter clone which, in addition to the problems already discussed, has poor hit detection, a small pool of boring and basically identical characters, ugly graphics and wildly varying levels of AI competence. Actually, one thing I can give Fist Fighter credit for is that increasing the difficulty level does make your opponent a bit smarter, mostly noticeable in the way they try for longer, more damaging combos instead of just knocking you down over and over again.
However, the After-Match Abuse segements provide the only real glimmer of enjoyment that can be extracted from Fist Fighter, so I'm going to finish off this article with a couple of my favourites.


A+ punnage from Gino, good work. Because he's Italian! Ah ha ha, they like pizza. Then he's once again accused of being feminine. I sure wish the programmers had bothered to show some of Gino's womanly grace in the actual game, it might have made him a more interesting character to play as.


And finally, my favourite of them all: Otis threatens to kill Lee Chung, and Lee Chung simply accepts this with weary resignation. He yearns for the tender embrace of death. Man, that is grim. Well, see you all next time!
P.S. Don't play this game.

10/09/2014

FLASHGAL (ARCADE)

Faster than a pedestrian walking at an average pace! More powerful than a locomotive's... elderly ticket collector! Able to leap quite high but probably not over any building with more than one floor! It's Flashgal, a Sega-created superhero and star of the 1985 arcade game that bears her name!


Flashgal, aah-ahh, saviour of the universe, or at least a small selection of stages that are infested with the evil minions of this bloke.


Flashgal is one of those arcade games that keeps its cards close to its chest when it comes to plot and motivations. The closest you get to a storyline is a brief scene of this cheerful bald man laughing before walking out of a room. Surely that's not enough impetus for a superhero to go on a side-scrolling beat-em-up adventure? If heroes targeted people just because they laughed and then left rooms, Batman would be beating the crap out of me every time I walk into a branch of GAME and see how much they're charging for the latest releases.
I think there's supposed to be an implied element of organised crime. These guys do have a certain Mafia air to them, and the guy in the middle is presumably a boss, a Don, a kingpin of some sort.


Right then, the basics: Flashgal is mostly a single-plane beat-up-em in the Kung Fu Master mould. Enemies appear on screen, and it's your job to pound as much justice into them with your bare hands as you possibly can. Flashgal's karate moves encompass the familiar trio of punches, crouching kicks and jumping kicks, but the big gimmick is that the screen is constantly scrolling, pushing Flashgal forwards. I think that's what was supposed to happen, at any rate, but what actually happens is that the background is always moving from right to left but the gameplay remains resolutely un-scrolled, with Flashgal going about her business exactly as you'd expect her to if the stage was completely still. This is especially - and amusingly - noticeable when you crouch; Flashgal stays perfectly still but keeps movin' along as though she's sitting on a conveyor belt. Good work, Sega.


As I kick a dog while the Statue of Liberty looks on, I have to wonder - what kind of hero is Flashgal? Well, the kind who kicks dogs, apparently. I should make it clear that the dog was trying to kill Flashgal, and it's only the timing of the screenshot that make seem like the dog is patiently sitting there while I try to kick it to death. I wouldn't worry about upsetting Lady Liberty, because that's clearly a knock-off version of the famous statue that has only been recreated from the armpits up in order to save money.


Now I'm fighting in front of a bootleg White House. Is Flashgal's first mission to clear an America-themed amusement park of criminal scum or something? That'd explain the scrolling, the whole thing is a theme-park ride taking you through the history of the USA, and all these villains are animatronics that have gone berserk. Look, if Sega aren't going to provide a story then I have to come up with my own, right? I understand your concerns about internet fiction based on an existing property, character or franchise, but I promise it won't get weird. Flashgal's not going to start making out with the jet-pack troops or anything.
By the way, the guy doing the kung-fu kick in the screenshot above is a boss, I suppose. The screen stops scrolling when you get to him, the stage ends once you've battered him into unconsciousness and he takes more than one hit to defeat, all of which are good "boss" criteria... but he's just a bit lame. Walk up to him and punch him and he'll pop up into the air, where you can keep walking forward and punching to juggle him into a coma. It's a rare occasion, but in this case I'd tell you to keep the flying kicks to yourself.


Then stage two starts and Flashgal is riding a motorcyle. It's not a good motorcycle, either. It explodes if it touches anything that isn't the tarmac, and the sudden shift from the health bar of the first stage to the instant-death-on-contact mechanics of the second level is aggravating, especially when you realise that you can't attack the enemies in front of you. Oh, you can fire, but your rockets only travel straight upwards, so if there's an obstacle in front of you you'll have to jump over it.


Obstacles like these thing. At first I mistook it for an oil drum - this is a beat-em-up from the Eighties, after all - but on closer inspection it is quite clearly half a Coke can. It's got ringpull hole in the top and the letters "KE" on side and everything. I feel like that's something any half-decent motorbike should be able to knock aside, but I guess my ride isn't even half-decent. Now I know why it blows up so easily.


You can get some use out of the bike's upwards-firing rockets once you reach these monkeys that sit at the top of the screen and throw dynamite at Flashgal. They can't be part of the Mafia, can they? I refuse to believe that apes are allowed into the Cosa Nostra. I mean, big burly guys with names like Rocco and Crusher, but not honest-to-god simian apes. Maybe a specially-trained police monkey who goes undercover to bring down the mob from the inside, the idea  being that a monkey can't be arrested and tried for whacking someone. That's Made Ape, coming to a YouTube channel near you as soon as I can hire a gorilla costume and find someone who can do a reasonable Sicilian accent.


This is more like it: in stage three, Flashgal has a sword. The extra reach comes in handy when fighting the samurai and ninjas that populate the stage, and you can even knock the ninja's throwing knives out of the air if you time it right. I always love it when you can do that in a game, it goes a long way towards making you feel like you're controlling a badass.


While Flashgal is being menaced by an ostrich wearing a tiny crown, let's talk about her character design. She looks like Wonder Woman, and anything you read on the subject of Flashgal will point this out. The game's rather bare Wikipedia article even claims that the game "was popularly known as Wonder Woman Arcade," although I can't find any proof of that.


She definitely looks like a bootleg Wonder Woman in the game's cabinet art, but here's the thing: her sprite looks a lot more like Marvel Comics' Elektra than Wonder Woman. She's got the same red clothes, black hair colour scheme and the same one-shouldered top. The sword seems like a weapon closer to Elektra's trademark sais than Wonder Woman's lasso. The villain of the game is an overweight, bald crime boss in a white suit, which is a pretty good description of the Kingpin, Elektra's former employer / adversary. My comics history isn't great, but wasn't this game also developed during the time when Frank Miller was finding great success with his Daredevil (featuring Elektra) run? I'm not denying that there's a healthy dollops of Wonder Woman in Flashgal's DNA, but I think there's just as much of Elektra.


A bit further along, and there is the Kingpin himself. Is this the final boss already? No, it can't be. I've only been playing for five minutes. I know arcade games are short but that would be ridiculous.
The trick to this boss fight is to stay in the air as much as possible. The Kingpin has a gun that turns Flashgal to stone for a while if it hits her, giving the Mafia goons a free hit on you, so bouncing around and doling out flying kicks is the best way to go. As so often with this kind of "flat" brawler, your aerial attack isn't so much a flying karate kick as it is the extended process of leaping into the air, sticking your leg out and then falling onto the enemy with your outstretched heel. I know I mentioned this phenomenon in the Running Battle article, and I'm sure it's come up in other games. In Flashgal, it's probably your safest method of attack.


After a thorough enough beating, the Kingpin surrenders. His goons keep on fighting even after their master has fallen, but they don't have weird petrification rays so mopping them up isn't much of a problem. Is that it, then? Is crime over?


I guess not, because there's a stage four and it's a crappy side-scoilling shooter. The return of the apes, now grown to gargantuan size as they sit amongst the clouds and throw explosives at Flashgal's gyrocopter, is the only redeeming feature of this Gradius-lite snoozefest of uninteresting enemy patterns and one-note gameplay. I have played a good few games where the action has been interrupted for a stage of side-scrolling shooting action, and I can't think of a single one of them that wasn't a tedious, poorly-arranged intermission at best. At least your helicopter can fire forwards, that's a step up from the motorbike.


Stage five sure is a stage in this videogame that I'm playing. Yup. It's got a new neon background, but it's the same old ostrich-punching action, Flashgal apparently having left her sword in the helicopter. No, I don't have any idea what the deal with the ostriches is or why they're wearing crowns. Are ostriches the kings of the bird-world? No, that'd surely be the peacock, all gaudy and noisy.


Even the boss is nothing new - the Kingpin is back, and he's brought some karatemen with him. An endless supply of karatemen, in fact, a particularly large dojo located just off-screen constantly pumping new recruits into the fray each time you defeat the previous batch. It's a touch more difficult than the first encounter, because the karatemen are better at knocking you out of the air when you try a jump kick than the Mafia henchmen were, but there's still nothing too taxing here.


Then you reach this stage, and Sega decide that the jolly, carefree adventure of Flashgal's early levels has gone on long enough and it's time that the player suffers. A good example is the introduction of the red-suited henchmen. They've got guns, guns that can fire a constant stream of bullets at head height. Ducking underneath the bullets might seem like a practical solution, but it only leaves you trapped in the situation pictured above - you can't crawl towards the gunmen, and you can't stand up or jump towards them because the gap between their bullets is too small for you to get squeeze through without being shot. If you find yourself trapped like this, you'll just have to suck it up and take the hit, I'm afraid.
The key to victory, in both this scenario and throughout Flashgal as a whole, is aggression. Get to the enemy and destroy them before they can set themselves. Accept the damage sustained from being hit by a bouncing tire or small robot bird if you have to, because it beats getting stuck in the middle of a pack of dogs or under the guns of the Red Velvet Mafia. They might technically be in the same genre, but Flashgal is Splatterhouse 2's mirror-image: a fast-paced game where all-out attack is your best chance of survival, , a game that feels somewhat imprecise and which lacks atmosphere, taking place in a slightly bland universe only occasionally enlivened by the appearance of giant green birds.


Oh ho, "lucky!" indeed. Now the tables have turned: this sickly-looking ostrich dropped a gun when Flashgal punched it. Now Flashgal has a gun, and she's going to make them all pay. Or she would if there was much else to the stage, once I'd found the gun I sort of wandered forward, firing off the odd shot, and then the stage ended.


Things took a downturn from there: not only did Flashgal lose her gun between stages, but now she's being attacked by R2-D2's homicidal, yellow-panelled cousins. I'd love to tell you that I'd discovered a Mega Man-esque slide move that's letting Flashgal slip under the lasers, but that's just the pose she does when she's been shot.
Of course, I was being unfair when I labelled those robots as merely "R2-D2's cousins." Thanks to the endless releases of ever more obscure Star Wars toys and the fan community's commitment to documenting any aspect of the Star Wars universe that was even so much as mentioned in passing by a minor character in a third-tier spin-off novel, I can guarantee that there is an astromech droid who is just like R2-D2 but yellow, and that it has been immortalised in the toy form.


Well, would you look at that. The droid's name is R2-C4 and it appeared in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This information took me less than two minutes to find. Welcome to the future. I think this is preferable to flying skateboards. I would have just fallen off of those anyway.


With danger closing in at every side and the volume of on-screen enemies reaching critical levels, the day was saved when another radioactive ostrich charged onto the screen. Sure, it tried to disembowel me with its powerful talons, but it was worth taking the damage just to let it get close enough for me to punch. Then I could take the gun it was carrying and proceed to the end of the stage in a more orderly fashion.


When I reached the end of the stage, something odd happened. The scrolling stopped, as it does for a boss encounter, and I was looking forward to taking on a bigger foe with some firepower on my side. A large, muscular man started to enter from the right of the screen - you can just about see their arm in the previous screenshot - but then suddenly, and without me doing anything, they turned around and just walked away. Then the stage ended. Did I scare the boss off? I think I scared the boss off. They were going to take Flashgal on, but then they saw that she was packing heat and made the quick (and totally understandable) decision that their sword was not going to provide adequate protection against Flashgal's handgun. Some bosses have the power of telekinesis or deadly martial arts skills, this boss had the power of common sense.


What fun, another vehicle section, with Flashgal taking to the water this time on her jet-ski. As far as I can tell, the jet-ski handles exactly the same as the motorcycle, and yet somehow it feels more irritating. I think part of this is down the the layout of this stage in particular. "Can you jump over this naval mine?" asks the game, and you can. "What about two mines at once?" it retorts, and again, you can jump over two naval mines at once because the jumping parts of Flashgal are so basic, so perfunctory, that half the time you'll get past them without even noticing they were there. Then the game ramps the challenge up to the dizzying heights of forcing to jump over three mines in a row, by which point your mind isn't so much wandering as it is desperately charging towards any other vaguely interesting thought that flickers through your brain.


Flashgal's gameplay isn't giving me much to talk about - it's the same old one-plane brawling you've seen a hundred times before, and it lacks the usual Sega magic - but the simple truth is that Flashgal is one of the very few games where the hero can be mercilessly kicked to death by a flock of angry flightless birds. That's not something that I can just leave undocumented, especially given the "superhero takes on organised crime" motif provided by the rest of the game. In summary: what the hell is going on? I haven't been this confused by a game's setting since the time I tried to play Silent Hill 3 while recovering from abdominal surgery.


I finally get to face the boss that ran away from me earlier, and either Link got buff or it's the hero from the Roman section of Great Swordsman. Only not so great, because all he can really do is slowly swing his sword at you, and for all the complaints I have about the vehicular sections, Flashgal is very nimble when she's got her feet on the ground. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the flying kick is more powerful than any stationery item.
Also, after watching some videos of Flashgal it seems like bosses fleeing in terror when they see my gun is not something that usually happens and you are supposed to fight them with a firearm equipped. Whether their reluctance to stand and fight me was down to an emulation error or me playing a different revision of the game I can't say, but I'm glad that it worked out this way. It's nice to feel powerful for once. That's the lesson to take from this: owning a gun will make you feel like a big (wo)man.


Oh good, more motorcycling. Sega thought that what would make the experience more fun and interesting would be to make it much more difficult. Sega were wrong. Trying to squeeze Flashgal's bulky ride through the swarms of birds and missiles is not fun at all. None of these vehicular sections are fun, and the frustration of this one is still preferable to the tedium of scrolling shooter bit, but Flashgal would have been a better game overall without their inclusion. It's very similar to My Hero, another Sega game from 1985, but My Hero comes out on top thanks to it sticking to what it's good at.


This is stage eleven, and the game is throwing everything at Flashgal now with no attempt to generate a cohesive theme. Dog, ninjas, Mafia thugs, blokes with jet-packs who drop bombs into the fray with the disinterested air of someone flipping playing cards into a hat during a boring camping trip, this stage has it all.


There's another fight with the Kingpin at the end of the stage. Not pictured: the Kingpin himself. He hadn't managed to get onto the screen yet and I didn't get a proper screenshot of this fateful encounter. That's a shame, because this is the end of the game.


Well, sort of - after section 11 the game rolls back around to section 1, which is more of the same with backgrounds you've already seen. There's a chance - a tiny chance, admittedly - that the game does something different if you keep playing it beyond this point, but I'll never find out because this is where I called it a day.
Flashgal is, to use a tired footballing cliché, a game of two halves. One half is a by-the-numbers but quite playable little walk-and-punch adventure, while the other half is bad vehicle sections. I know I keep harping on about them, and it might just be a personal thing, but they're boring, their difficulty curves are weirdly unpredictable and they break up the flow of the game. If Sega had given Flashgal a sword but no vehicles for the whole adventure, I'd have been much happier.


It didn't cause me a huge amount of excitement, but Flashgal does have its positives: the graphics are nice, with a lot of character packed into some fairly basic sprites, even if Flashgal's default expression is "trying to look at her own nose." The controls are crisp, even during the vehicle stages, and there no problems with wonky collision detection... but even for all this, Flashgal feels a little hollow, sterile even, that feeling only being lifted when you're attacked by all those ostriches. Man, those ostriches will bury your head in the sand if you're not careful.

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