I know pretty much nothing about the Kamen Rider franchise other than the basics: He fights crime, he transforms into a grasshopper-based superhero, he rides a motorcycle and there are approximately seventy thousand different Kamen Rider series, each with a different Rider. As far as I can tell, Kamen Rider SD is a kind of Greatest Hits edition, where various Riders from across space and time put aside their grasshoppery quarrels and band together to fight a common foe. Oh, and they're all drawn in a manner that makes them adowwwable.
As for the gameplay, how can I explain it? Well, if you've ever played Final Fantasy VII, (I think there's about three or four left out there who haven't,) I can explain it pretty easily. You remember the motorcycle minigame? It's essentially a whole game of that. You move your Rider around the screen, kicking out either to his left or right to kick enemies off their bikes/cars/pogo sticks. It's a side-scolling beat-em-up where you can only attack into or out of the screen, basically. Each stage has you playing as a different Rider, and each one has a unique special attack, such as a spinning sawblade or transforming into some kind of blazing comet. There's also a shop where you get to choose a limited-use sub-weapon. but you get so few of them they really aren't that much use.
And that's it. It's kinda fun, but as you can probably guess, when it's stretched out over nine stages with no changes in the gameplay, it gets tired pretty quick. What this game does have in it's favour is graphics. Lovely, lovely sprite graphics. The Riders themselves look great: if they had been released as toys when I was a child I would have wanted, nay, demanded to own them all. The enemies are fantastic, in both senses of the word: the game world seems to be populated by little bobble-headed blue guys called "E"s, who fill the background as well as serving as your adversaries. So, here's a look at some of the pixelly loveliness to be found within.
STAGE 1: City Road
Here we see Kamen Rider popping a wheelie. He's fond of that, as you would be too if you had a motorcycle that cool. Notice the Es in the background. The one on the far right does not look impressed.
Some sections of the background here: First, a nice shop display featuring an E-headed Godzilla, a group of superheroes and an elephant with Y-fronts on its head. Then there's Endina Enes, a good friend of one Mr. H. Ford. Hopefully, he wasn't named after the dog. Nice to see Shia LaBeouf isn't on there. Finally, there's a poster for a very familiar looking android-based movie.
STAGE 2: Country Road
Not much in the background on this stage, apart from this strange tableaux: On the left, a man seduces a woman. On the right, someone getting suplexed. I can only hope this isn't a time-lapse thing and the suplex isn't the inevitable outcome of that guy chancing his arm.
A special mention for the boss of stage two: He is a Ku Klux Klan squid-man riding inside a mechanical spider with fishnet-stocking-wearing women's legs. That is something a bit wonderful. If this guy is an actual Kamen Rider villain, please, please let me know.
STAGE 3: Cave Baster
Just a couple of things about stage three: yes, it is called "Cave Baster", so I guess every so often Rider gets off his bike, finds a huge pipette and pours the cave's own juices back onto itself. I bet that's one delicious gravy. Second, the boss is the afore-mention pogoing elephant. So far, this game's bosses are up to a standard not often seen outside the Parodius games.
STAGE 4: Fire Tornado
This enemy bears rather a resemblance to a Zaku of Gundam fame. Stage 4 also has my favourite band in the game (more on that later) and, perhaps not coincidentally, the best music in the game.
STAGE 5: Desert Battle
It looks like Endina Enes is in trouble here. Perhaps the large fellow is George Lucas' lawyer.
It's just like being in Sagat's stage!
A whole row of statues, one assumes of fallen heroes. I particularly like the luchador with the scythe.
STAGE 6: Big Tank
Nothing much to report in this stage. Yes, the boss is a Big Tank.
STAGE 7: Silk Road
As Rider battles his way along the Great Wall of China, some familiar figures are doing a little Street Fighting up on the battlements. Ken is almost certainly being scrubby, and Ryu looks like he's getting his ass handed to him. The other two just look cool.
The boss is an eyeball monster who flies around in a noodle bowl. You have no idea how long I spent trying to come up with a noodle-related pun to go here.
STAGE 8: Midnight Town
Yee-haw! Welcome to Lass Egass! There is a lot of neon in this stage, along with...
...Mount E-More! They do not look pleased.
STAGE 9: Fung To The Circuit
Okay, this is just creepy.
Luc Besson's lawyers should team up with George Lucas's. I'm sure they have a case.
For some reason, the racing circuit is also showing a wrestling match on the big screens. They look rather reminiscent of M.U.S.C.L.E. toys, which may well be intentional. All I know is their facial expressions will haunt my dreams.
And that's the end of the game, apart from a very short stage where you fight an evil Rider who turns out to be the last boss. The bands I mentioned earlier? Well, during each boss fight there is a band in the background that ties in with the theme of the level. Here's a picture of all of them (click for a bigger view). Oh, except for stage 6, because I haven't got a picture of them. They were a bunch of American-looking soldiers, anyway.
I like Stage 8's Michael Jackson extravaganza, although I have no idea what the hell "Darth Ambassador" is supposed to mean. Vader's more diplomatic brother, perhaps? Less Force choking, more of a focus on economic sanctions against rebel planets. Stage 4's punk band is my favourite, though.
And that's it for Kamen Rider SD: Shutsugeki!! Machine Rider: a briefly fun, mostly mediocre game redeemed by KKK Squid-men and sprite-based copyright infringement.