16/04/2015

CAPTAIN COMMANDO (ARCADE)

Five years. Five years I've been writing VGJunk now. "I'll write about videogames," I thought to myself all that time ago, "it'll be fun." And you know what? It has been fun, even with the occasional Imagine Doctor or *NSYNC: Get to the Show to remind me of the ultimate futility of human existence. There'll be nothing so unpleasant today, though, because as always I like to treat myself on VGJunk's birthday by writing about a game I like a lot. Last year it was hyperviolent murdertainment classic Smash TV, but for today I'm returning to the purest and deepest of my loves - the Capcom beat-em-up, and so the VGJunk Fifth Birthday Special is all about their 1991 arcade brawler Captain Commando!


The Captain Commando logo is tired, so it's just having a little lie down.
So, Captain Commando - Capcom's follow-up to the extremely successful and genre-defining Final Fight, and I would argue that it's the closest thing to an arcade sequel that Final Fight ever received. The two games play very similarly and I've seen some sources say that Captain Commando takes place in Metro City, albeit in the year 2026. If that's the case then Mike Haggar must have relinquished his mayoral office, because a new criminal gang has risen to plague the city and you wouldn't think they'd be stupid enough to do that if the Mayor of Justice was still busting heads in the corridors of power. Instead the responsibility of protecting the most crime-filled place outside Professor Moriarty's to-do list falls to the heroic Captain Commando and his Commando Companions. Let's meet them now!


With a tough body, a sharp brain and a hairstyle produced by a wind tunnel, it's Captain Commando himself. I'd call him the game's most average character, but none of the other playable characters are wildly different in terms of statistics, and the usual beat-em-up roster of an average guy, a fast but weak guy and a strong, slow guy is ignored in favour of having four similarly-powered commandoes. Not that Captain Commando is an ordinary man, of course - he's a tireless crusader for justice, a bane of evil and presumed puppy-rescuer who fights crime with his fire- and electricity-producing Captain Gauntlets. He wears the Captain Protector on his chest and scans for bad guys with his Captain Goggles. Does he call his boots "Captain Boots"? You bet your ass he does. Captain Boots is also a pretty good name for a kitten.
His occupation is listed as "unknown," which is odd because he is a commando. "Commando" is an occupation, right? Maybe he's trying to preserve the secrecy of his other occupation: as a Capcom advertising mascot.


Yes, Captain Commando started life as a promotional character for Capcom's early NES games, looking completely different than he does in this game. I think we can agree that the change of design was for the best, and the game's version of Captain Commando is a much more visually appealing character than a disinterested space pirate with a bizarre hairline and questionable taste in medallions. He's not even looking where he's firing those guns. No wonder he has to resort to punching people in this game, he's been stripped of his firearms license.


Ginzu the Ninja is a ninja. He's very good at being a videogame ninja, but he's still "just" a ninja and that makes him the least interesting character of the four. It's not his fault, it's just that the standard of the competition is very high. His name is Sho in the Japanese version of the game, and I'm going to assume it was changed to Ginzu overseas in reference to the famous knife brand Ginsu. You know, sharp blades and all that. His bio says that he can cut enemies in half with a single stroke of his sword. He can, but he doesn't. You still have to hit them multiple times, which kinda feels like Ginzu is just making extra work for himself. Also, to further the Final Fight connection, Captain Commando's arcade flyer claims that Ginzu is a master of Bushinryu-style ninjitsu, just like Final Fight's Guy.


Why do they call you Mack the Knife? Oh, because of the knives, I see. Okay, so he was originally called Jennety in the Japanese version of the game, but in this version he's named after a showtune and I'm fine with that. No word on whether Mack is fine with that, because he's the most mysterious member of the team - an alien mummy from outer space. See, Ginzu, this is why you're way down the pecking order of the Commando team. Mack's outer wrappings are actually a "genetic bandage," necessary for his continued survival here on Earth, and his knives are special weapons which can apparently "melt all matter." As far as I'm aware, his cap is just a regular cap. Captain Commando gave it to him. Why yes, it is called the Captain Cap.


Last but by no means least - no-one who can launch missiles from their knees can ever be the least - is Baby Head, AKA Hoover. Baby Head overcomes the handicap of being a small child, something which usually forces you to stay out of the thug-punching business unless your parents are a) extremely pushy or b) Batman, by riding around in a robotic battle suit with extending arms and the aforementioned rocket-knees. Baby Head also built his robot suit, because he is a genius baby. Not enough of a genius to add some kind of protective cockpit to his robo-suit, but maybe he's relying on the enemies' hesitation to punch a baby to protect him.


The villain of the piece is an evil overlord who likes fiddling with DNA. His name is Scumocide, or Genocide in the Japanese version. Genocide is a more threatening name. "Scumocide" makes it sound like he's either going to thoroughly clean the toilet or kill all the scum, and that's my job. The scum-killing, not the toilet-cleaning. I suppose I'd better get on with it. The scum-killing. Yes.


I knew this was a city plagued by crime, but is that bad guy smoking? A cigarette? That's beyond the pale, even for a low-level gang enforcer. Doesn't he know that he's not only damaging his own health but the health of those around him? It's just disrespectful, that's what it is, and it's up to Captain Commando to teach this young man some manners through his own extreme brand of electro-shock therapy.


The ground-zapping attack is Captain Commando's "Sure-Killing Technique," a curious title for a move that doesn't even kill the weakest grunts in one hit. Between this and Ginzu's unsubstantiated claims about being able to slice through anything, I think the Commando Comrades have been inaccurately fluffing up their collective CV. If it turns out that Baby Head isn't a genius baby but just a regular baby then I'm going to have to make a formal complaint.
The "Sure-Killing Technique" is, of course, just the usual beat-em-up special move activated by pressing jump and attack together, the move that knocks away any nearby enemies at the cost of some of the player's health. For a game that is the direct descendant of Final Fight it's no surprise that Captain Commando shares the same fighting system. There's an attack button, and attacking an enemy repeatedly results in a short combo. We've already discussed the special move, and you can grab enemies by walking into them and then either hit them a couple of times or throw them to the ground. Captain Commando's major addition to this familiar formula is the inclusion of dashing moves - tapping the joystick left or right twice makes you character run and allows them to execute a running attack (in Captain Commando's case, a running kick) and even a running jumping attack. Captain Commando's running jump attack is a wrist-mounted flamethrower called, you guessed it, Captain Fire, which is where his special move of the same name in the Marvel vs. Capcom games comes from. It's all very intuitive, and the first couple of screens feature exactly the kind of goon-clobbering action you'd expect.


Then, suddenly I've stolen a robot from one of these strange, yellow-hooded little men and I'm using its large pneumatic fists to pound away at Dolg, the first stage's boss. I haven't really skipped anything, either - the stage is just a few short screen patrolled by a couple of generic grunts to help you get into the swing of things and them bam, you're stomping around the place in a precursor to Mega Man X's Ride Armors, trying to foil a bank robbery.


This whipcrack pace is one of the things I like the most about Captain Commando, especially when coupled with the insanity of its locations. Don't like fighting in the street? Not to worry, you'll soon have moved on to somewhere different and kinda weird, like a bank whose vault sort of looks like a giant teddy bear's head with a yawning, cash-stuffed mouth and wires pouring from its eye-sockets. There's little nose at the top, see? No? Just me on this one? Okay, let's look at Dolg instead, then. The legs and feet of a very large Native American man combined with the facepaint, spiked chest harness and receding hairline of an ageing wrestler. Standard beat-em-up first boss fare, if you ask me, and his unusually powerful punches are balanced out for the most part by Captain Commando having access to a robot. Not too difficult a test, then, and soon Captain Commando will be on his way to the museum that makes up the second stage, where no doubt his run of convincing and effortless victories over evil will continue.


Jesus Christ! Given the colourful comic-book action and cheesy pulp sci-fi atmosphere of the first stage - the first stage of a game where you can play as a baby, I might add - I was not expecting to see our hero sliced into two bloody chunks of extremely dead meat. Captain Chunks, if you will. Oh well, it was time for me to try out one of the other characters anyway.


Extending the maxim "fight fire with fire" to its logical conclusion, I decided to fight knives with knives and give Mack the Knife a chance to shine. I immediately warmed to the mummified space-stabber thanks to his long range (which might not actually be any longer than Captain Commando's) and his Sure-Killing Technique, which sees him pirouette around the screen with his knives outstretched. You can even control where he moves when he's spinning, which is very helpful. These scantily-clad women don't seem too impressed by Mack, mind you, possibly because his knives pale in comparison to their two-pronged, electrified tuning forks. That explains their outfits. Those rubber boots are designed to ground them and protect against any stray electric shocks, you see.


Deep in the museum's caveman exhibit, Mack fights against short, fat men who can breathe fire. I have still yet to see a convincing explanation why it's always the fat enemies in beat-em-ups who can breathe fire. Is gasoline particularly packed with calories or something? Also, the enemies with the beards aren't animatronic museum cavemen who have come to life in order to protect the sanctity of the diorama they call home or anything, they're just hairy. All their flesh melts off their bones once you've hit them a few times, which makes it strange that so many of them have signed up for a life as a gang enforcer. Hired goonery must have been all that was available at the job centre.


The boss is Shtrom Jr, an amphibian harpoonist with the air of an unsuccessful auditionee for a villain role on Captain Planet. He would have represented, I dunno, the twin evils of water pollution and harpoon fishing? Anyway, Shtrom Jr. fights by launching waves of harpoons at the player and then jumping away. You can hit the harpoons out of the air but the whole experience is still faintly annoying as it feels more like you're chasing the boss around in a playground game of tag than having a stand-up fight, and the fact that he's Shtrom Junior implies that I'll have to fight Shtrom Senior at some point and the thought of a palette-swapped version of this encounter isn't exactly setting my heart ablaze.


The next stage is the Ninja House, where all the ninjas live together in a communal setting, devising rotas for the household chores and arguing about who drank Fuuma-san's milk out of the fridge even though it was clearly stamped with his family seal. No ninjas here, though, just a plethora of troops I've clobbered before with the addition of Mardia, the large lady with the Sideshow Bob hair.
As this is the Ninja House, I thought it would be fitting to switch to Ginzu for this stage, so that he can test his mastery of the shadowy arts of assassination against his similarly-trained peers.


Then he picked up a gun and shot a samurai in the face. Good work, Ginzu. Joe Musashi would be proud. No, wait, not proud, horrified. You can't just shoot your opponents, at least not with a handgun and standing in broad daylight! That has to out a significant dent in your clan's honour, falling between "giving up information under torture" and "betraying the lord who has hired you" on the You Have Shamed Your Ancestors chart.


Ginzu does get to fight some actual ninjas in this stage, engaging them in the traditional method of ninja combat - throwing comically oversized shurikens at them. I think I preferred the gun.


Kabuki theatre reaches new depths of violence with this boss fight against Yamato and his giant spear, hurr hurr. It didn't go very well for Ginzu, and I haven't taken a beating like this from someone in a tabard since the school dinnerlady caught me trying to steal an extra portion of custard. It's Yamato's huge weapon, hee hee, that's the problem - attacking from the front is suicide, because the spear's range is extremely large and any assault from that direction will see you immediately cut down. Instead you have to bide your time and try to get in at Yamato's sides, which is easier said than done when he's forever spawning minions to run interference. I didn't expect him to just let me stab him to death but, c'mon, a little one-on-one battle between two followers of the noble martial arts isn't too much to ask, is it?


It's fun for all the family, a cavalcade of chaotic clowning and mistreated animals, the thrill of the Big Top and the stomach problems that come from eating carnival food - yes, it's the Circus! Metro City has a circus now. The current administration has definitely gone soft, Mike Haggar would never have let such a bad element into his town. I bet the Ninja House aren't happy either, a circus pitching up next door can't be good for local real estate prices.
I switched to the mechanical munchkin Baby Head for this stage as he's the only Commando yet to see action, and he seems to be settling in nicely as he uses a ray gun to hypnotise one of Scumocide's footsoldiers before unleashing the knee-rockets. I could have just punched the guy to death but hey, knee-rockets. I did worry that exposing such a tender young mind to the unspeakable horrors of the circus might lead to deep psychological scarring, but it all seems fairly benign and clown-free so far.


Ah. Well, look, Baby Head is a genius baby, right? So I'm sure he'll have to the mental fortitude needed to process the ramifications of this slaughter. The agonised screams of his barbecued victims and the stench of burning flesh that he can never clean off his robot battlesuit no matter how much he scrubs and scrubs and scrubs will definitely not haunt Baby Head for the rest of his life. The Circus, ladies and gentlemen!


And lest you think I'm allowing my personal issues with the circus to cloud my opinion of Captain Commando's fourth stage, I think this door shows that Capcom are on-board when it comes to understanding the clown menace.


The boss of the circus is (thankfully) not a mutant battle-clown. Instead it's just the regular mutant monster. His name is Monster. Normally I'd complain about the lack of creativity expending in naming this thing but it did hatch from it's containment pod mere seconds ago so I'll let Monster's mad scientist creator off with not coming up with something more intimidating.
A much more enjoyable fight than the previous two, Monster is a tough opponent without being frustratingly cheap, and it's always nice to do battle with a boss who is, if not your equal, then at least doesn't seem to regard the player with complete contempt. He might look like he's built from cacti, but Monster has a warrior's heart and an admirable appreciation for the linchpins of the beat-em-up setting, skilfully incorporating oil drums into his fighting style. What, you didn't think we'd get through this whole article without mentioning oil drums, did you?


Things all get a bit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for this stage, as our heroes pursue the scientist who create Monster across the open water on their motorized surfboards. The game never actually says "cowabunga," but you can tell it wants to. This is more of a bonus round than a full-blown stage, with the surfin' ninjas being dispatched in a single hit and the focus being shifted from surviving the hordes of enemies to racking up a respectable score by knocking as many ninjas as possible into the water. This task is made easier by the regular supply of weaponry that floats past. These weapons also make Captain Commando possibly the only game in existence that lets you play as a genius baby in a robotic suit who guns ninjas down with an M16.


I caught up with the mad scientist. His name is Dr. T. W., which I'm going to assume stands for Doctor Time Waster. I definitely feel like I wasted my time chasing him into the sewers and kicking his speedboat a few times. Okay, so that's a bit unfair - the surfing stage is a nice change of pace, a fun mid-game break that refreshes the mental palate in preparation for further beat-em-up violence.
Before we leave this stage, take another look at the screenshot above and notice that Baby Head has drawn lapels on the front of his robosuit. The kid likes to look sharp, I guess.


Here in the aquarium, Captain Commando settles into a jolly little groove of thug-slapping action, with a variety of different enemy types attacking from all directions and each of them requiring your attention, giving you something to think about as you try to keep away from the big, powerful enemies while making sure you don't line yourself up with the bad guys who have long-range attacks. The smooth controls and multi-hit properties of your dashing attacks mean that the combat's main juggling act, that of trying to keep all the enemies clumped together either by knocking them around the screen or throwing them into each other so that they can't surround you, is a slick, fast-paced and enjoyable experience. It can't quite match Alien vs. Predator for fluidity or the Dungeons and Dragons games for sheer depth, but the action is still great fun for the most part and any cracks are patched up by the weirdness of the setting. For example, look at the background. What are they doing to that whale? A whale, of all things? I know Scumocide is into genetics and yes, that is a killer whale but I don't think there's going to be much you can harvest from a whale's DNA that's going to help him create a race of unstoppable warriors or what have you. Maybe Scumocide spectacularly misunderstood what a SEAL Team is. Also pictured in the above screenshot: the result of a xenomorph infestation on a world populated solely by speed-skaters.


Oh look, it's Shtrom Senior. What a surprise, he's the same as Shtrom Junior only lavender. He's brought along another relative called Druk, because what I really wanted was to fight two of an uninspired earlier boss at the same time. Capcom didn't even bother to update Shtrom and Druk's portrait picture to reflect their new, more relaxing colour scheme, which was lazy of them and thus nicely fits into this, the laziest of boss battles.


The underground base now, a sinister den of transparent walkways, secret experiments (possibly on other large sea mammals) and rocket launchers. Enough rocket launchers for everyone to experience the rocket-propelled fun of being in a terrorist militia without the insane religious fundamentalism! There are rocket launchers for the bad guys, rocket launchers all over the floor and even enough rocket launchers left over for Ginzu to use them for pretty much the entirety of the stage. Ginzu doesn't do much actual ninja-ing, does he? I'm beginning to suspect he only got into the ninja business because black robes are slimming.


No rocket launchers here, only a conveyor belt leading through Scumocide's Play-doh Squeezy-Shape Minion Maker or whatever this place is supposed to be. I've played Captain Commando many times in the past, but I've never realised before that the enemies being constructed in the background are the big samurai lummoxes. It's the boxy arm-guards that give it away. I had assumed this meant the samurai I'm fighting here are fresh off the assembly line, but their backs are already filled with arrows so that must be part of their design, I suppose? No, that doesn't sound right. Let me talk to the factory foreman, we'll soon get this sorted out.


Okay, I know this is an informal meeting but I wasn't expecting quite that much crotch to be thrust at me. There doesn't even appear to be that much down there, either, certainly not enough to prompt this rather vulgar display. Oh, I'm sorry, your desk is too small? Well then get a bigger desk, you weirdo. Head office is not going to like you greeting prospective customers with your Action Man-smooth fun area. We're going to fight now, aren't we?


The boss' name is Blood, his knees are extremely square and he fights mostly by kicking, which I didn't expect because the most arresting part of Blood's character design is that he's had his arms replaced by two even larger arms. You can see where they're stitched on around the shoulders and everything, because if you're not bothered about about finding an arm donor who matches your skin tone then you're probably also unconcerned about a bit of conspicuous needlework.
Blood at least has the decency to fight your chosen Commando one-on-one, which makes a nice change. The boss fights really are Captain Commando's weakest aspect, and while the bosses generally look interesting they're rarely much fun to fight, with each battle muddied by the inclusion of too many extra grunts and the overly-powerful and awkward-to-avoid attacks of the bosses. It's not that they're too difficult, it's that they're not challenging in an interesting way, and it's ironic that Blood is probably the most enjoyably straight-forward fight despite being the least interesting boss visually. I think fighting him atop a space shuttle might be clouding my opinion of how cool he is, mind you.


Here we are aboard said space shuttle, where Captain Commando's later stages have comfortably settled into a pattern of throwing large numbers of bad guys at you, often in waves of identical type. As before, the combat mostly revolves around corralling the enemies into one clump, which is easier said than done because they're like the metaphorical herd of cats, albeit very violent cats with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. There's definitely more of an emphasis on picking up and using weapons in these later areas of the game, and I'm not sure how I feel. There's a lot of fun to be had in using the weapons, honestly, but it can feel a bit like the beating-em-up part of the beat-em-up formula has been cast aside.


The space shuttled is guarded by Doppel, a fat man in a very unflattering green suit who has the power to transform himself into one of more of the Commando team. It's a fight to the death against your greatest enemy... yourself! Except this fairly common videogame power has always felt really dumb to me, because surely if there's one person for whom a fighter is going to have intimate knowledge of their every weakness and flaw, it's themselves. If not, and Doppel just assumes the surface appearance of opponents, then that's even dumber. You could have been Batman or something! Actually, in that situation, you should turn into your opponent's mother. Who's going to be able to punch their mother? Exactly.


With Doppel defeated, the space shuttle reaches it's ultimate destination and Captain Commando's final stage - Callisto, fourth moon of Jupiter and it's opulent and oxygen-rich lunar habitat! It his here that Captain Commando bonks a man on the head with a comedy mallet, because this game is truly strange - but it plays everything completely straight, which is one of my favourite things about it. There's no evidence that any of this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and we're expected to take it at face value that an alien mummy and a genius baby are Earth's mightiest defenders... and I do, wholeheartedly.


It's Dolg, again. Hi, Dolg. Thankfully this isn't the beginning of a tedious boss rush - Captain Commando feels fairly long for a beat-em-up anyway and doesn't need any padding - but to get to Scumocide you have to go through both Dolg Redux and the portrait of what I'm assuming is supposed to be Jesus with a strange facial expression. Christ the Redeemer is not angry at Captain Commando, he's just disappointed. The rest of the background doesn't make much more sense, either. My adventures have become mere after-dinner entertainment for a race of identical, hyper-muscular aristocrats? Check out how tiny that Martini glass looks in the big lug's hand. Could you not find him a pitcher or something?


Just beyond the painting of Jesus, which was actually a door all along, waits the final battle with the powerful and ruthless Scumocide, master of Callisto and also master of getting right on my nerves. You'll notice that Captain Commando is on fire in this screenshot, as he was in all the screenshots I took of this fight, or at least the ones where he wasn't encased in ice. You see, Scumocide's main move - his only move, really - is to fly around the screen launching extremely powerful fire/ice balls from his hands before hovering just out of reach of your attacks. It is not a fun experience, a boring grind that has little to do with the gameplay found in the rest of the game. Scumocide reminds me of a prototype version of Gill from Street Fighter III, and Gill's a pain in the arse to fight, too. It feels less like a final boss battle and more like a fight against a mobile gun turret, but with the application of enough running jump attacks I eventually managed to whittle Scumocide's health down until he was defeated.


The game ends with a press conference, and if this game is set in Metro City then maybe this is Mike Haggar. He seems to have the moustache, and the incredibly broad shoulders of a former pro wrestler / vigilante justice dispenser. The sprite lacks the detail required for me to state outright that this is Haggar with any real confidence, but as a special treat to myself I'm going to pretend that is definitely is Haggar. Well, this is the birthday article, so I'm treating myself.


Oh, so you put the plot of your game right at the end, huh Capcom? Clever, that means people have to play all the way through if the want to know what the hell is going on. That ought to keep the quarters rollin' in!
With the world declared safe, Mayor Maybe-Haggar turns to the screen behind him and asks "hey... who are you, anyway?" The answer?


Why, it's Captain Commando, of course - Capcom mascot, semi-forgotten arcade star and one of my go-to characters in Marvel vs. Capcom. He's not blowing the audience a kiss in the above screenshot, it's just the way his lip animation happened to be at the time. Oh, okay, you can pretend Captain Commando is blowing you a kiss if you want. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.


As the credits roll and the Commando Chums show off their moves, I'm left to reflect on one of those gaming experiences that isn't perfect but that I still love. My major issues with the game, the disappointing boss fights and the occasional over-reliance on using weaponry, don't do much to detract from the game's overall sense of fun. The over-the-top action is never dull thanks to excellent controls and a great cast of characters, and Capcom's graphical prowess shines brightly in this one - it's beautifully detailed and animated, a real joy to look at. It's videogame comfort food, the arcade equivalent of cheese on toast - perhaps not the most balanced or complete meal, but one that makes me feel a little warm inside and which goes well with a nice cup of tea. Give Captain Commando a go, you'll probably enjoy it. I know I do.

So, that's the end of this year's birthday article, and what a treat it was. For me, I mean. Possibly not so much for you. Anyway, many thanks as always to all VGJunk readers, and hopefully you'll stick with me as I ramble my way through another five years. Five years! I still can't quite get over it.

14/04/2015

TOUGH TURF (ARCADE)

You know, when I first started writing VGJunk it wasn't my intention to cover as many side-scrolling beat-em-ups as I could. It just sort of... happened, this tendency of mine to gravitate towards games about walking to the right and punching people. What does this say about me as a person? That my relatively sheltered life has resulted in an internal desire for street combat as a way to prove my masculinity? That I'm a sociopath that would willingly pretend to have a passion for justice if it meant I had license to clobber punks with my fists or, better still, a metal pole I found on the ground? No, I think it just means I'm happiest with the uncomplicated nature of the genre. Walk right, punch someone. Simple. I can grasp that, much like I can grasp a metal pole I found on the ground, and there's plenty of opportunity for pole-grasping in today's game - Sega and Sunsoft's 1989 arcade brawler Tough Turf!


That's Tough Turf, one groundsman's quest to keep his local football pitch free of crabgrass and dog muck. Well, no, obviously not, but I've got free reign to make up whatever story I like for this one. It won't conflict with any plot the game itself gives you, because it gives you none. No shot of a sneering villain, no description of a city held hostage by a malevolent gang with a name like Wild Tyrant or Buster Skull, you just press start and the game begins.


It begins with a delivery. A delivery of justice, as this lorry rolls up and drops off Tough Turf's hero, as though the populace of Punchfight City clubbed together and ordered a vigilante avenger off Amazon. His name and reasons for fighting shall forever remain a mystery, but he puts me in mind of a more blonde version of Youtube tat reviewer Stuart Ashen. I think it's the red tie.


Combat is firmly based on the Double Dragon template, with separate buttons for punch, kick and jump, the ability to pick up weapons but no health-sapping emergency special move. Having the mechanics set up this way isn't all that appealing. I have to be honest, I've never been that big a fan of Double Dragon and the stiff, clunky controls are most of the reason why, so it's a shame that Tough Turf plays almost identically. This biggest annoyance is that you have to press jump and kick at the same time to perform a jumping kick, which sounds totally logical but which feels cumbersome next to the system found in most beat-em-ups that lets you press kick at any point while you're in the air. It's a minor irritation, though, and one that's probably personal to me, and on the flip-side Tough Turf has the welcome addition of a crouch command. Press punch and kick together and not-Ashens ducks, which is useful for avoiding the many, many lead pipes that will be swung his way during the course of his adventure.


Tough Turf's setting is the usual urban dystopia populated by violent thugs with not a single full-length sleeve between them. That's how you can tell our hero is a good guy - he still has sleeves, he's just rolled them up. The game's commitment to this sleeveless motif is such that I don't think there is a single enemy that isn't exercising their right to bare arms, although that's partly thanks to the game recycling the same five or six sprites for every opponent.
There's also an advert for a modem on the wall, which makes me feel old as I remember the concept of buying a dial-up modem. They were very rarely advertising using posters of disinterested-looking women pasted on the walls of back alleys, mind you. Maybe I'm reading it wrong and it's actually an advert for a hyper-specific phone sex line.


And so you go on, clobbering punks until the stage runs out of punks and ends. There are no end-of-stage bosses here, and the lack of effective management is readily apparent in the way the troops have little battle strategy beyond trying to surround you. They really need to recruit some better leadership, someone who can take charge of this ragtag organisation and whip them into shape. Possibly with an actual whip, given the prevalence of the dominatrix cliché in beat-em-ups. It makes things easier for our hero, though, and anything that makes this game easier is to be welcomed because without changing the dipswitch settings you can't continue your game when you die, and there are no health-restoring items along the way.


Stage two now, which takes place in the factory that makes all the oil drums in all the belt-scrolling brawlers I've ever played. They're all open, the lids being manufactured in a different factory several miles down the road. In the freshly-minted state the barrels can neither be smashed apart to reveal cooked chickens or thrown at your enemies, serving as nothing more than a raised stage on which our hero must fight the already over-familiar set of goons. I recommend standing near the edge of Fort Barrel and repeatedly kicking the bad guys off the side as they climb up. It doesn't make beating them any faster, but the repeated embarrassment must be doing their self-esteem some serious damage.


Fort Barrel is the only interesting thing about stage two, honestly. The level ends with a fight against some larger-than-average punks in front of a door with "factory" written on it, just in case you weren't clear that this stage was set in a factory and not the garage of someone with an all-consuming desire to possess the world's largest oil drum collection. You don't even get to go through the door: when the stage ends, our hero drops through that grate in the floor. What a tease. Hang on, dropping through a floor grate... the next stage is going to be a sewer level, isn't it?


Yes, the spacious and brightly-lit sewers that are an integral part of any videogame city, providing much-needed refuge for vicious gangs, misunderstood mutant crimefighters and the designers of tedious valve-based waterflow puzzles! These particular sewers are made of brick. Lots and lots of grey-brown brick, a landscape that reminds me of nothing so much as a greasy polystyrene tray found on the floor after last night's regrettable takeaway kebab experience. The thug with the broken bottle is walking though this landscape with no shoes on. While joining a violent street gang requires a certain level of sociopathy, entering the sewers barefoot speaks to much deeper psychological problems. That man needs help. Luckily, this is a videogame, and as such having a metal bar smashed into your head counts as "help".


The developers tried to jazz up the sewer stage with the inclusion of these spiked rollers that have to be jumped over. Unfortunately our hero's jumping abilities are... how can I put this politely? Shit. He is shit at jumping, and so getting past these rollers without taking any damage was beyond me. Granted, I didn't try that hard to get the timing right, because I'd managed to give myself unlimited continues and even I have better things to do with my life than figuring out the strange parabola of this guy's awkward leaps.


We must be in the factory district, because the sewers lead right into another factory, where our hero is getting beaten up by a WWF reject with a steel pipe while Duke Nukem's less successful brother looks on. He has a pipe, too. Nearly everyone has a pipe. Look through the screenshots in the article and you will see that almost all of them feature a pipe in some way, either being wielded by a character or laying on the floor, waiting to be picked up. The other weapon in Tough Turf is a spiked club, which is functionally identical to the pipe but, you know, spiked. The vast majority of Tough Turf's combat revolves around the acquisition and implementation of these weapons, resulting in a game that has more club hits than David Guetta but not much in the way of flexibility or novelty. It's strictly "get a pipe, use the pipe" with the odd kick thrown in when you think the enemy will be able to swing their pipe before you can swing yours.


Despite the game's lack of ambition, uninspired setting and rigid adherence to the same gameplay formula, I still found myself having some fun playing Tough Turf. This is strange, because it was for those very reasons that I complained about Ren and Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures last time out, so what's the difference? Am I just a hypocrite? Possibly, but I think it's more down to Tough Turf being earlier in its genre's history, with less refinements to its family tree - Ren and Stimpy had many more platformers to learn from, but it mostly ignored them. Then there's the fact that I just love beat-em-ups, and some deep part of me enjoys the process of methodically eliminating thugs more than it does jumping between floating platforms. Tough Turf is certainly one of the less engaging examples of the genre - even the main character looks like an accountant who accidentally wandered into the wrong, factory-heavy part of town - but there's something soothing about its solid, familiar gameplay.


More factories in stage five, or whatever the opposite of a factory is because they un­-make things here, scrap being moved by conveyor belts into pools of molten metal. Around half of these items of scrap are the metal poles so common throughout this game, so I can only assume that the reclaimed metal from the pipes is what all those oil drums are made of.


The conveyor belts do add something different to the combat experience, and if you're feeling particularly saucy you can try to lure enemies to their agonising deaths in a roiling crucible of liquid steel by standing at the end of the conveyor belt and knocking them over. It is a more efficient way to murder large numbers of steroid-laden villains than stoving their heads in one-by-one, a sentence that I feel is destined to end up on a court transcript or psychiatric report at some point in the future.


Over the years spent running this site I have put a stop to all manner of felonious schemes and world conquest attempts, but today I've found the biggest crime ever in a videogame and it's this fucking carpet. "And have you thought about floor coverings for your palatial penthouse apartment, sir? Ah yes, the Dumpster Spaghetti carpeting, a fine choice." It's like all the shadowy, twisted fabricomancers who create the upholstery for the world's public transport got together to spawn the foulest, most rancid pinnacle of their art. You might be thinking "this game must be getting pretty boring if you're talking about the décor," and you'd be right, but c'mon, just look at it. On second thoughts, don't look at it. I don't want any lawsuits from people who popped their own eyeballs out with the nearest piece of cutlery


I'm much more amenable towards the chandelier, possibly because it looks like a child made it from ball-bearings and old tin cans, a primary-school art project that hangs near the balcony in a misguided display of parental pride. None of the game's characters are interested in the either the chandelier or the carpet, because they can't hit them with a metal pipe. That's Tough Turf, brought to you in association with the World Metal Pipe Council. Plastic plumbing? What are you, some kind of loser?


You know what? I'm going to put this one down as a boss fight. It's right at the end of the stage, all the enemies are the same but coloured differently and they even have half-sleeves, a sartorial choice that makes them stand out from the crowd, or at least it would if they weren't identical quintuplets. Five against one sounds like challenging odds, but that spiked club never breaks and I have a small raised platform to stand on as I wait for the bad guys to jump up to me, so I'm confident of victory.


Carpet situation: improved, but still aggressively unpleasant on the eyes. At least there's a bit of art and a nice plant to cheer things up a little, and the overall swankiness means we're probably getting close to meeting the mastermind of this criminal enterprise. What are we thinking, some kind of drug baron, a kingpin of organised crime whose wealth affords him an air of legitimacy?


Huh, I guess not. It's just the usual post-apocalyptic-anime thug, all mohawk and studded bracelets. I like that the villain chose relaxation over style by going with the comfortable armchair rather than the ostentatious golden throne. Ruling the streets with an iron fist is exhausting work, so it's important to be able to come home after a hard day's tyranny and just unwind, your toes sinking into the fur of your bearskin rug while the Stars and Stripes, erm, reminds you what country you're in? The only thing that's missing is a roaring fire. Instead, he has a giant portrait of Walter Matthau to keep him warm. The painting's eyes follow our hero around the room, in classic Scooby-Doo fashion.


Oh look, the boss' huge glass plinth-thing can fire spiky rollers out. I did wonder why he was sitting up there. This proves that the plinth is not, as I first thought, a huge version of those inflatable chairs that were popular in the late Nineties, although I think the villain would have been better severed by the traditional trapdoor. The rollers make a nice change, but they're too easy to avoid for any vigilante with a modicum of skill (so not me then) and then there's the clean-up if they are successful in grinding your foes to paste. Actually, these rollers might explain the state of the carpets around here.


We're fighting now. There's a fight happening. Well, we were never going to talk it out and come to an amicable agreement, were we? The man tried to kill me with garden rollers, the time for diplomacy is over. The painting in the background slides aside to reveal a woman held captive in the wall space. She's a blonde in a red dress, because videogame street gangs are nothing if not predictable in their targets. Anyway, the fight: the head villain has an axe, which is really the only thing that makes him any different from the rest of Tough Turf's enemies and even that doesn't change much. You just have to duck under his attacks and kick him a few times until he drops the axe, and then you can fight back properly. Oh, if only there was a steel pipe nearby, then I might stand a chance!


No such luck. I suppose I'll have to let my fists do the talking. They're feelin' pretty chatty, what with a kidnapped woman to rescue and a final boss who is raising his meaty arm-clubs high above his head and providing me unrestricted punching access to his midriff.


All right, mission complete! I beat a man to death with my bare hands, but before I celebrate this wonderful achievement I'd better escort this young lady to safety. Except... something doesn't seem right. She's in a  fighting stance, purposefully striding towards some unknown destination without so much as a "thank you for rescuing me" for our hero.


I bloody knew it! The woman suddenly and without warning turns on our hero, punching him in the head and running away while he gawps at her, understandably stunned. Super Mario never had to put up with this kind of treatment.


Thus, Tough Turf reaches it's dramatic conclusion, as the player must do battle against an opponent whose goals and motivations are never mentioned in a fight for which the stakes are apparently not worth discussing. What the hell is going on? Why are these people hitting each other on a rooftop? Was this lady planning on living in that cage for twelve years until her squatter's rights kicked in or something? The caging must have been consensual and I messed up the kinky sex games between her and her mohawked husband, although I'm not sure that constitutes grounds for a gladiatorial death-match.
In the end, none of these mysteries were solved and the game ended when I kicked this woman off the roof.


The end. No, really, that's it. This lady is dead, and you're never told why you were forced to kill her or indeed why any of this game took place. That's the cruel indifference of human existence, folks! I don't know what to say about this. I know looking for engaging storylines and deep characterization in late Eighties arcade games is as fruitless as looking for those same things in a Hollyoaks omnibus, but Tough Turf is almost unnerving in it's complete refusal to explain anything about anything, and it has the odd effect of making me feel like a cold-blooded murderer rather than a heroic avenger. If that was the point and Tough Turf was meant to illustrate that violence, even violence conducted in a noble cause, is ultimately dehumanising, then congratulations to Sunsoft and Sega for getting their point across. I think that might be giving too much credit to their intellectual goals, though.


Unusual (lack of a) storyline aside, Tough Turf is a very simple game that I think most people would get bored of very quickly. Bland backgrounds, reused enemies and one-note combat means there's little to recommend it to even beat-em-up fans, and the heavy focus on whacking things with metal poles means it doesn't even feel like much of a beat-em-up at all. A piñata simulator, maybe. That said, I still had some fun with it, though I'm not entirely sure why: maybe my standards are slipping, or my advancing age is making me more prone to nostalgia. No, wait, I've got it - that hideous carpet has hypnotised me. Well played, Tough Turf. Well played.

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