Boomerangs? Check. Hair like a small green hedgehog? Check. The world's most irritating bats? Check. Okay then, we're all set for WolfTeam's 1991 Megadrive game El Viento.
I vaguely remember playing this back in the day, enjoying it, and then not being able to remember why I enjoyed it. So I figured I'd play it again and find out, hopefully without being horribly disappointed. The plot is that age old story: Evil cult wants to resurrect a/the dark lord, and the chosen one must stop them. In this iteration we have, in the red corner, the evil Hastur. Is this the same Hastur from the Cthulhu Mythos? Well, we shall see. In the blue corner we have Annet, a young girl who can run like the wind and throw boomerangs like Crocodile Dundee. This all takes place in the 1920s, which is a nice change of pace as far as videogames go.
You start the game in a city, and the first things to notice are the excellent music, composed by none other than Motoi Sakuraba, who composed the music for most of the Tales series as well as Shining Force III, and the well-above-average graphics. Annet herself is particularly well animated, especially when she's running about. The basic gameplay is in the side-scrolling action platformer mould: you run around, jumping between platforms and throwing boomerangs with gay abandon. Oh, and you can throw fireballs too, which is always nice. The enemies in the first stage are a strange mix: there's your obvious-enough mafia goons in trenchcoats, and then you're suddenly attacked by what appears to be Vega from Street Fighter riding a motorcycle. There's a section of climbing up the buildings while men appear in the windows and drop any number of household items on your head, and so far it's all going pretty well. The controls are nice and fluid, the graphics and music are very good, and the whole thing is, well, fun. Fun! In a videogame! Who would have thought. Around halfway through the stage, you're attacked by a gangsters in a bright pink Model-T Ford, which I guess puts paid to the notion of "any colour so long as it's black," and then it's on to the boss, which turns out to be a very incongruous-looking giant tank. Quite how this futuristic battle machine ended up in the 1920s is anyone's guess but there it is, pumping out shells while you throw boomerangs at it. I assume these are magic boomerangs, because they make fairly short work of the FUTURISTIC SPACE TANK. When the tank is a bit damaged, you can see the driver: it's one of the gangsters, complete with fedora. That's the kind of era-mixing oddness I can get behind. Once he's defeated, you get a nice cutscene, as you do between all the stages. The odd thing is that at no point during the cutscene are you told who is talking, so I like to choose one character and pretend they're saying eveything. It makes them all sound like mad people, which is only going to add to the fun of the game.
On to stage two, and it's out into the great outdoors, where robot totem poles spring up to welcome you with deadly fire. The totems have rather cheerful-looking faces on them, which makes you wonder about the mentality of the villian who (presumably, unless the native Americans had access to some pretty advanced technology) erected them. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge difficulty spike rears up in front of you. And it was all going so well, too. The problem here is jumping across some rotating platforms. Annet should have planned a route that didn't take her directly across the top of a ruddy windfarm, but there you go. Straight afterwards there is a section of crumbling platforms, but they're not nearly so tough. Soon you're at the boss, a witch called Restiana who keeps showing up in the cutscenes. The battle takes place on a pile of crumbling tiles, (fortunately, you can't fall off the bottom of the stage,) and I managed to get her stuck in the scenery and pummel her with fireballs. There's another cutscene: apparently I was at Mt. Rushmore the whole time. I'm sure it was very nice.
Stage three starts in a warehouse. No, wait, I took a couple of steps forward and it appears to be a bar. There's a fat guy trying to glass me to death, so it could be any city-centre bar on any Saturday night, really. A bit further on, a tiny pirate jumps out of a barrel and tries to stab me with an equally tiny knife. Man, it makes me feel happy inside to type a sentence like that.
Hang on a moment, though: a tiny pirate with a tiny sword who jumps out of a barrel? I'm fighting the freakin' Pop-Up Pirate! I guess he had to branch out: the kids aren't interested in board games these days. Onward into the sewers, and what do you get in sewers? Slime, that's what, and here it is. Also fish that you can use as platforms (Annet likes riding aquatic lifeforms, as we shall see at the start of the next stage,) and rats. Lots and lots of rats. It looks like Krusty's Super Fun House down there. After the sewer is a cave, which has trolls. This game sure is sticking to it's stereotypes. There should have been a whale in the cave, that'd have confused people. There are a few dragons to fight, and they give you a new spell that pours water on the ground. It's pretty useless, apart from this one instance where you have to use it to put out some fires. The boss awaits, and he's Zantar The Gelatinous Cube! You have make a dent in him with repeated boomerangs, and then hit his fleshy innards. He's not that tough, and it's on to stage four.
Annet jumps on a dolphin's back and rides out onto the high seas, fighting men in hang-gliders and having a fine old time until suddenly OH DEAR GOD THERE'S PIXELS EVERYWHERE WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!
Yes, this tentacley thing appears and gets in your way, and he really is that pixellated. What the hell were the developers thinking? Did they think no-one would notice? I mean, I've seen some pretty bad Mode-7 scaling in my time, but this is even worse. However, if you look carefully (or possibly from some distance away) the pixel-beast looks a little like the Great Lord Cthulhu himself. So, you're riding a dolphin throwing boomerangs at Cthulhu. Now that's what I call a videogame. Eventually you make it past the Great Old One and into a ship made almost entirely of spikes. The game takes on an almost puzzle-based flavour here, as you gain a sonic boom power and use it to light fuses and get around the hundreds of thousands of spikes that make up the ship's cargo. It's all rather well done, difficult without being frustrating; it's definitely one of the highlights of the game. The boss, however, is disappointing. I think it's supposed to be a ball of coral that shoots (some nicely animated) lightning at you... and that's it. He's not very adventurous.
Stage five is a temple in the Grand Canyon, and after the last stage it seems a little bland. Some statues come to life and try to attack you, some bats grab onto you and drain your health. Yawn. It's rather disappointing after the S.S. Spikeboat. Oh, and you get a new spell that's essentially a bigger fireball. The stage's boss is bubbles. No, not Jacko's monkey, but a pile of suds in the corner of the room. He's pretty tough for lather: his main method of attack is to fill the screen with smaller bubbles that can hurt you, trap your boomerangs and generally be a nuisance. He's the hardest thing in the game so far, but even lather is no match for the mighty boomerang.
Detroit is the setting for stage six, which is a very short stage. You proceed through a factory full of conveyor belts, jumping over junk and avoiding the extremely advanced security system that the owners of said factory felt it necessary to install. The boss is odd in that it's a game of find the lady rather than a straight-up fight: a monster hides in one of three boxes, the boxes get shuffled around and you have to pick the right one to hit. All well and good, until I took a closer look at the monster and realised it's a Mi-Go. A goddamn Mi-Go! The geekiest part of me had a small fit when I figured that out. Now I'm convinced it was Cthulhu, Lord of All Pixels, that I fought earlier.
Another very short stage, where you run across the top of an aircraft getting shot by turrets that you can't avoid until you reach the reactor core, which I suppose counts as the boss. You climb up some descending platforms and shoot the core. Done, next stage please.
The final stage, then, and it transpires that the Empire State building is actually a shrine to Hastur, or possibly Gozer the Gozerian, and Annet has to get to the top. It was all going so well until now, but the game takes a serious downward turn with this stage. Riding the elevators, fighting lizardman and solving some simple door-opening puzzles would be fine if it wasn't for the bats. THE GODDAMN BATS. The bats from stage five have returned, you see. Except now there are thousands of them, crammed into every square inch of the stage, clinging to you and draining your health and being completly unavoidable. THESE FUCKING BATS. My God, the levels of frustration encountered here cannot be healthy, and I now have a deep-seated terror of bats. Thanks, El Viento. Thank you very much. Eventually, against all the odds, Annet manages to break through to the final boss.
Your final opponent is Restiana again. Having recovered from the kicking I gave her earlier, she transforms into a purple hydra-y thing and battle commences. She's fairly tough, what with all the fireballs and such, but after that bat stage anything else feels like a blessed relief. Once she's defeated, there's a cutscene where Annet is upset about having to kill Restiana, but obviously not that upset, and the game ends. No more bats!
El Viento is good. There, I said it, and I'll say it again. It's a good game, with solid gameplay, great graphics and music and A FREAKIN' MI-GO. Sure it has some cruel difficulty jumps, and that bat stage will haunt your dreams for many years, but these are only minor issues which are mostly down to me being rubbish at videogames. So give El Viento a go: just make sure you stop before the final stage if you value your sanity.
BONUS: http://www.bogleech.com/sega-viento.html here has all the sprites from the game. In fact, you should just go and have a look around the site. It's a pretty cool place!