04/01/2012

MAGICAL DOROPIE / THE KRION CONQUEST (NES)

VGJUNK is back for the New Year, and if 2012 really is the year that the Earth is to be destroyed in a fiery cataclysm then I can't think of a better way to ride it out than by playing obscure NES games. Well, I can think of better ways but none of them are mentionable on a website that is ostensibly safe for work.
Today's 8-bit adventure takes us through Vic Tokai's 1990 action-platformer Magical Doropie, released in the West as The Krion Conquest.

I'll mostly be playing the Japanese version, because the Western release suffered a pretty brutal hack job that I'll talk about later. For now, let's enter a magical world of witches, robots and large pits filled with spikes that are fatal when touched!

The girl in the red Hallowe'en costume is our heroine, Doropie the witch (or Francesca if you're playing the Western version). Have we met somewhere before, Doropie? You look sort of familiar...

It's something about those huge white eyes and that bow-legged stance...

I'm sure the fact that she looks like Mega Man is just a coincidence, and there's no way that Magical Doropie / The Krion Conquest could possibly turn out to be an utterly shameless rip-off of Capcom's beloved Mega Man series. You're playing as a witch, after all. It's not like you're going to be fighting hordes of hyper-advanced robots or anything.

Except that's exactly what's going on. The story begins in a typical enough manner - the Krion Empire has invaded Earth, quickly conquering the planet with their robot army. The Krion robots are so advanced that Earth technology is useless against them, but for some reason they're weak against magic. You can't really blame the Krion Empire for that oversight in the robot-building process, I suppose. "We've equipped each of our battle-mechs with two-foot-thick armour and enough laser weaponry to carve the very planet in twain. What do you mean, "what if they attack us with wizards?" Get out of my laboratory!"

Luckily for Earth, they've got one witch spare who is tasked (in grand videogame tradition) with destroying the entire enemy army all on her lonesome, because apparently there's some kind of rock-paper-scissors relationship between magic, robots and whatever the third element is. Science? Yeah, that sounds about right. Magic beats Robots, Science beats Magic and Robots beat Science because they're just science but harder.

Gameplay-wise, what we have here is a standard-issue NES action-platforming adventure. You must carefully manoeuvre Doropie through each stage, jumping over bottomless pits and deadly spikes, shooting robot enemies with pellets of magical energy and utilising your special weapons effectively until you reach the robot boss at the end of the stage.

It's just Mega Man! Almost no attempt has been made to disguise this fact! Slapping a pointy hat and one black pixel to denote cleavage onto the Blue Bomber is hardly what you'd call a complete overhaul. Magical Doropie is one of the most thorough gaming rip-offs I've seen since The Great Giana Sisters, and it's not just Doropie's design. An example: one of the first enemies you encounter in this game is a small, dome-shaped robot with big round eyes that cannot be harmed until you get close to it, at which point it opens up and fires at you.

But Doropie's a witch, right? So, she couldn't possibly steal the powers of her defeated robot enemies and use them herself, because she'd have to fuse them to her body in a grotesque melding of flesh and metal. Luckily, Vic Tokai had fully committed themselves to... recreating as many of Mega Man's gameplay features as possible and instead of getting equipped with arms torn from the robots you've destroyed, she has access to various magical spells.

Spells that change the colour of Doropie's sprite when you equip them, naturally. Here's where the developers made the single biggest mistake in Magical Doropie - they give you access to all the spells at the very start of the game. One of the most important factors in Mega Man's success (or in the appeal of videogames in general) is that new powers are a reward for doing well, a goal to strive for and a way of gradually introducing new mechanics into the gameplay. As much as people joke about videogames' cruel tendency to send underprepared weaklings to kill demonic overlords and take down intergalactic empires with nothing more than a wooden sword, imagine how boring Super Metroid would be if Samus started with all the equipment she has at the end of the game.

It doesn't help that Doropie's powers aren't particularly interesting or useful. "Normal" is the standard blaster, which you can charge up by holding the button - interestingly, this feature appears here before its inclusion in Mega Man 4. I'm not saying Capcom stole the idea from MD, but I don't think anyone would blame them if they had. I can't see Vic Tokai taking them to court over it, put it that way.
As for the non-standard attacks, "Fire" is a screen-clearing smartbomb that costs a third of your health bar to use, "Freeze" does exactly what you'd expect except you can't use the enemies as platforms, "Ball" fires rebounding projectiles at an upward angle, "Shield" creates a temporary barrier and "Broom" removes dust from a small patch of floor in front of you. Not really, it summons a flying broomstick that works much like the Rush Jet from that Capcom game series, oh, what's it called? You know the one I mean, right? Yeah, that one.

And these powers are, on the whole, bloody awful. The only ones you'll ever use are the standard blaster, the Ball and the Broom. You use the broom a lot actually, and it can get quite tedious having to access the menu to select it every time you need to cross a chasm. As for the other powers, the Fire attack has no practical use and the Shield is semi-useful against one boss, but the most baffling weapon is probably Freeze. There's one section in one stage where you can use it to temporarily put out some fire, but other than that it is so redundant that you almost feel sorry for it, like a blind child who gets a Viewmaster for Christmas. Sure, you can freeze enemies in place... but it doesn't kill them. You know, like my standard magic blasts do. You can't use the frozen enemies as platforms, and unless I'm missing something it has no other abilities. It's Justin Bieber if he somehow managed to join Led Zeppelin.

With deft use of the powers at your disposal - by which I mean the Broom - you'll eventually reach a robot who acts as the stage's master. Ahem. The first boss is Thunder Knight, and his appearance suggests that Dr. Wily landed a lucrative contract building robots for the Krion Empire. That logo in the centre of the room is a dead giveaway. Changing the letter from a W to an A is simply a sign that Wily has set up a subsidiary company, no doubt as some way of avoiding paying taxes.

Thunder Knight is the most interesting thing about the game so far. No-one appears to have informed him that robots are weak against magic, and he spends most of the fight transforming into a laser beam that moves around the room and crashes into you. Luckily we know his real weakness, and that's attacks that come from a diagonal angle. Just wait for him to transform back into a robot and shoot him with the Ball. He just sits here and takes it, his final moments a maelstrom of anguished bafflement about where all this pain is coming from if it isn't travelling perpendicular to the floor.

I like to look for the good in all the videogames I write about here at VGJUNK, and it's a rare occasion indeed when I can't think of anything positive to say. Fortunately, even such a bare-faced clone as Magical Doropie has at least one thing to recommend it, and in this case it's the between-stage cutscenes. Here the source of "inspiration" isn't so much Mega Man as Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden. While they might not be particularly original they are at least well drawn, with an effective use of limited colour palettes.

For me, they're probably the game's high point. Unless, or course, you're a poor Westerner and you're playing The Krion Conquest. Remember Magical Doropie's title screen? It's at the top of this article, the pink one with the big picture of Doropie? This is what The Krion Conquest had in its place.

Ouch. Not only that, but aside from a truncated intro all the cut-scenes were removed from the non-Japanese releases. I have no idea why, but apparently Vic Tokai though it'd be a good idea to remove Magical Doropie's one redeeming feature.
And then it gets even worse for poor little Billy playing The Krion Conquest in Americaland, because in a moment of cruelty so meaningless and brutal even Vlad the Impaler would say "steady on, guys!” they removed the continue option. You start with three lives, and if you use them all it's back to the start of the game for you, fucko; hope you didn't just bite your controller in half in a frustrated rage.

With the removal of the continue system, The Krion Conquest is rendered utterly fucking pointless. It is, I'll be honest, a fairly difficult game. About as difficult as, ooh, let's say Mega Man 3. Even Mega Man games give you a bloody password! Would that have been too much to ask? Between the removal of the pretty graphics and the missing continue option, you begin to wonder what ideas the Japanese developers of the time had about American NES players. They seemed to think that they were all emotionless, videogame-crushing machines, wholly unconcerned with fripperies like cutscenes or story, only interested in the cold-eyed pursuit of gaming strength through gaming pain. Continues are for pussies! With every Game Over, I become that much stronger! Yeah, I dunno. Suffice to say, the conversion from Magical Doropie to The Krion Conquest was poorly handled.
I suppose I should talk about the rest of the game, really. Stage two is an ice stage.

How shockingly original. Yes, you slip and slide on the icy platforms, although there appears to be a strange quirk in the programming: if you duck while you're sliding, Doropie immediately stops dead, only to continue sliding when you stand back up. I assume this wasn't intentional, but maybe having a highly frictive backside is a power all witches possess and just choose not to mention. It'd explain how they manage to stay on their brooms, at least.

The boss is a robot snowman with a stern countenance and, erm... that's about it, really. Look at the way Doropie is standing with her hands on her hips, you can tell she's not impressed either.

The third stage is Bubbleman's stage an underwater stage. Unlike Mega Man, Doropie has to breathe and so you must make your way between the air pockets scattered around the stage unless you want to see a cutesy cartoon witch drown to death. Of course, this is a right pain in the arse and when you combine that with your thoughts of how this stage was better when Mega Man 2 did it, you probably will want to see a cutesy cartoon witch drown to death.

The boss is a robot. Sort of looks like a beetle, I guess. Or he's wearing a hoodie. Look, I'm not a robotics expert, okay?

Stage four is a trip through the clouds, with lots of broom-riding sections, fluffy clouds and long drops into spike pits. One thing Magical Doropie has over Mega Man is that unlike an advanced fighting robot you feel a small girl really would die instantly if she plummeted into a spike-filled chasm.

I don't think even the developers knew what this boss was supposed to be. Giant robot kidney? Mechanical turd? His name is Sky Hawk, but he's clearly not a hawk. Like all the other bosses in the game, the key to defeating him to hit him in the head repeatedly with your Balls.

The fifth stage is a bit of a con, because while the manual promises a whole new level it's actually just a three-part boss battle. The final boss battle, to be precise! I have to give Vic Tokai some credit for not padding the game unnecessarily by, say, including a room full of teleporters that force you to re-fight all the bosses you already beat.
The first final boss is hot-pink cross between a Gundam and Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She must be the Krion Empire's most powerful robot, because only possessing the power to level entire cities will let you get away with a colour scheme like that. She teleports around the room, pausing to fire easily-dodged energy bolts at you, but once again magic proves its dominance over our robotic oppressors and the cyber-lady explodes.

The Krion decide to try to fight smart for the next part of the fight, pitching magic against magic with a clone of Doropie herself. This is a tactic you often see villains employing, but it rarely works out for them. I guess "Behold my secret weapon, which is exactly as powerful as you are!" is a plan that looks better on paper. Either way, I've been manipulating these arcane secrets for a lot longer and once again the real Doropie prevails.

The first two bosses were merely a warm-up for the Krion Empress-Bot, who is actually quite impressive. Less impressive when you remember the extremely similar Dragon boss from (you guessed it) Mega Man 2, but as giant robot tyrants go it's pretty cool-looking. I think she's impressed by Doropie's hard work, because she looks like she's about to start applauding you. She damn well should applaud me, too - I could have been getting the same experience through playing Mega Man 2, only with better graphics and music and level design and bosses that don't look like giant robot kidneys, but I stuck with Magical Doropie. I expect my medal is already in the post.
Anyway, considering the difficulty of the game as a whole, the final boss(es) is surprisingly easy and soon Doropie has destroyed the Ladybot-Space-Pope-Empress and saved the Earth. Hooray!

Normally, this is where I'd talk about the quality of the game, but in the case of Magical Doropie / The Krion Conquest, it doesn't matter. No matter how poor or how good the game is, all it will ever be is an inferior knockoff of Mega Man. As it turns out, it's not awful: the graphics are fairly good, the music is tolerable and the controls and Doropie's handling feel a little heavy but not game-breakingly cumbersome, but you can sometimes get a bootleg Louie Vuittarn handbag off the market that's close-ish to the quality of the real thing - but as close as it gets it's always a fake.

I don't hold it against Vic Tokai too much, though. While I was playing Magical Doropie, what struck me most was the feeling that this was a game that didn't quite make it, the sensation that it's less a full game and more an elaborate romhack. According to Wikipedia, the game started out as a Wizard of Oz game, but then licensing issues meant it had to have the Oz-ness hoovered out of it. This is why Doropie has a name that sounds like a resort on the Baltic Sea - it used to be "Dorothy". VC tried to retool the game, plumped for cloning Mega Man and, by the feel of the game, ran out of time, money or inclination during the process. More than anything it simply feels unfinished, what with the pointless weapons and the overall brevity of the game. Then it became The Krion Conquest and anything it might have had going for it was crushed. The conversion even removed the cheat codes, present in the Japanese version, that let you play in an alternate costume or as the male character that Doropie runs across throughout the story.

So, Magical Doropie is just another unfortunate casualty of the cruel world of videogames development, a victim of too little time and money, but as it was supposed to be a licensed Wizard of Oz tie-in I don’t think we're missing out on too much. Give it a go if you want to experience just how similar it is to Mega Man (here's a hint: very), but on the whole the NES has a whole host of much better platformers.

5 comments:

  1. Hah! Amazing how one tiny little pixel is all you need to denote cleavage.

    Also, your blog = awesome. Added to my reader pronto. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. winnerisyou: Thanks a bunch, I'll try to keep it up!

      Delete
  2. Hah, yeah this game is a complete ripoff... still, I love Mega Man, and if someone's going to offer to give me more of it, I certainly won't refuse. Also, I enjoy the little cutscenes, makes me feel like I'm important.

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    Replies
    1. Those cutscenes really are the best thing about this game.

      Delete
  3. So wait, we almost got a Mega Man clone based on the Wizard of Oz? That actually sounds kind of appealing, especially if they had moved forward with both franchises and we wound up with Mega Man X fighting giant Wheelers and the Mecha-Nome King.

    ReplyDelete

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