Ah, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers - that strange melange of wholesome American cheese and the Japanese predilection for filming people dressed in outlandish costumes pretending to beat seven bells out of each other. Is there anything that better encapsulates the hyperactive, day-glo youth of those of us who grew up in the nineties? The Power Rangers were huge, as huge as the Ninja Turtles had been before them, and you know what that kind of success translates into here at VGJunk? That's right - licensed tie-in games! Today's offering is Natsume and Bandai's 1994 SNES attempt to siphon cash from the parents of the Rangers' fans, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
If that familiar logo doesn't get your nostalgic juices flowing, there's also a pretty faithful recreation of the theme tune so you can embarrass yourself and others around you by singing along. Not that I did that, of course.
If you somehow managed to miss the Power Rangers phenomenon - total sensory disability or exile to Pluto are the only two possibilities I can think of - here's a quick recap: Rita Repulsa, an evil sorceress who lives on the moon and dresses like she was fired through Madonna's laundry hamper at high speed, wants to conquer Earth because that's what evil sorceresses do. She has the ability to make monsters and send them down to Earth, specifically to one small Californian city rather than, I dunno, Washington D.C. or something. In order to counter this threat, a floating head in a giant lava lamp gathers five teenagers and grants them dinosaur-based powers, the ability to change into the titular Power Rangers and a sweet-ass giant robot. Zordon - the floating head in question - specifically chooses five "teenagers with attitude," but because Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was so cloyingly good-natured that attitude was permanently set at "well-meaning helpfulness." The Power Rangers battle Rita and her monsters using martial arts, special weapons and fight scenes pasted in from various Japanese superhero shows, moral lessons are taught and everyone has a swell old time, particularly the people who received the income from the sale of Power Ranger toys.
There's Rita now look, appearing in the sky as an entire city burns to ashes. I was never a huge Power Rangers fan as a kid - I was a little too old to be right in the heart of the target demographic - but I've seen enough of it to know that Rita Repulsa never razed a city to the ground, leaving thousands dead and countless more homeless. That fire is just a coincidence. Pay the fire no mind.
That's all the story you get in-game, too. The Rangers see an apparition floating in the sky and, without uttering a word, run off to find something to punch. It's some kind of Pavlovian response that comes with embracing the power of prehistoric animals. Billy once saw a cloud shaped like a sausage dog and it took thirty men to take him down.
Five rangers mean there are five characters to chose from, all wearing colour-coded outfits so they don't forget which Ranger they are (although Zach is unlikely to forget that he's the Black Ranger.) It doesn't matter which one you choose and you get a chance to use them all, so I'm going to start with Jason, the Red Ranger and leader, purely because my cursor was already hovering over him.
The Power Rangers fight evil, usually at melee range, so it's no surprise to learn that Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is an extremely complicated flight sim.
No, of course it isn't. It's a side-scrolling beat-em-up, and a single-plane one at that: no moving into or out of the background here. It's similar, in form and function if not panache, to The Ninja Warriors Again, and all you need to do is move from left to right and batter any villains you come across. Unlike Ninja Warriors Again you're not a remorseless cyborg killing machine, and you start each stage in your standard civilian form. I know it seems disappointing, but "attitude" must go a lot further in the Power Rangers universe because even in their underpowered state they're still more than a match for most enemies. You have the usual array of beat-em-up techniques - a punch combo, jumping kicks, low attacks and throws, although there's no health-draining "desperation" moves here, and the enemies really aren't much of a threat at all. Like, pathetically so, as in "just run up to them and throw them about like Nerf footballs without any fear of reprisal."
The enemies you'll be fighting in the first stage, and for almost all of the game, are the Putty Patrol - blasphemous mockeries of human life moulded from living clay by the black powers of Rita Repulsa, existing only to run into the nearest Power Ranger's fist and explode. They come in a few different colours, some carrying weapons, some only taking one hit to defeat while others can stand a bit more punishment. Whatever their palette or fun new accessory they only really have one gameplan, and that's to get close to you, wait until you're distracted by the act of murdering their clayey brethren, and then stab you in the back.
Suddenly, a foppish skeleton appears! The average person might be taken aback, but this is all in a day's work for the Power Rangers and Jason just glares at the skeletal musketeer. He's probably confused, as am I, about why that skeleton is wearing a belt but no trousers. Whatever the reasons for his sartorial choices, the skeleton summons a few Putties and runs away. Jason is so enraged by this dishonourable trick that he decides the fun and games are over, and he morphs into his Ranger form.
This is the pattern followed by most of the stages in the game - you start off as a civilian, punch some Putties until you spot a monster half-way through the stage, then transform into a Power Ranger, the formulaic nature of each stage being the natural counterpart to the predictability of the series.
So, what does it mean to be a Ranger? Well for one thing your bare hands are now filled with your chosen ranger's trademark weapon. In Jason's case, because he's the leader and all, he's got a sword. Your standard punch combo is replaced by a series of sword swipes, and your crouching attacks now also form a combo instead of being a series of ineffectual kicks to the ankle. Sword combo aside, you can also press up and attack for a more powerful overhead swing, and grabbing enemies now comes with the option to whack them in the gut a few times before slamming them to the ground. I don't know why Jason needed to be in Ranger mode to do that one - perhaps the anonymity that comes with wearing a helmet assuages his guilt over pummeling dudes in the solar plexus. Oh, and you can press jump twice to perform a backflip that looks cool but, as far as I could tell, never really has much practical use.
The main improvement of the Ranger form, aside from the fact that you're actually playing as the Power Rangers promised in the title instead of a schoolkid, is that your sword gives you an increased range that makes herding the Putties into prime killing locations much easier, as well as negating any threat the boss may otherwise have posed. And who is the boss?
It's Bones, of course! That's the skeleton's name. Bones. A little unimaginative, but perhaps further evidence to support my theory that beat-em-up enemies are named by the protagonist the first time they see them. Jason doesn't strike me of someone who is overly blessed in the imagination department, so him calling a guy made of bones "Bones" makes sense to me.
The actual fight itself is a bit of a joke - all Bones does his hop around the room like an over-excited yet malnourished child on a bouncy castle. Most of the fight consists of you standing still while Bones jumps over your head, whacking him when he lands and causing him to jump back over to the other side. The thing is, his jumps aren't long enough to take him out of the range of your attacks, so all you need to do is stand on the spot, turn to face him when he lands and then introduce him to the all-American, half-Japanese fury of a sword with the power of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Speaking of Tyrannosauri, do you see the "BOMB" icon at the bottom right of the screen? When it's flashing, you can press X to unleash a screen-clearing attack.
It may look like I've wasted it, but trust me: Bones is bearing the full force of this fiery dinosaur. And then he dies. He comes back to life moments later without any arms, a move that does as little as you might expect to improve his fighting capabilities. Then you kill him again, and once more he is resurrected, this time as a floating skull that can breathe fire. Really slow fire that barely does any damage. I'm sorry, Bones: you just don't have what it takes to survive in the brutal world of Angel Grove.
First impressions of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers? Well, it's not bad. Surprisingly enjoyable, even. Unlike The Ninja Warriors Again, where there was always so much going on that being limited to a single plane was something of a blessing, the limitations of the missing Z-axis are a lot more readily felt in this game, but it still manages to stay just the right side of "too bland." It helps immensely that the core gameplay is solid and responsive - all that Power Ranger training must have paid off, because Jason does as he's told when he's told. The presentation is good too, with some music that surprised me with its quality and crisp, well-animated sprites that capture the oversaturated world of the series. After one stage, then, MMPR is a little bland but the kind of nicely constructed bland that means it's not a chore to play. Plus I did just kill a skeleton fencer by summoning a flaming T. Rex - I don't care who you are, you've got to appreciate the simple pleasure found in that. Unless your parents were killed by a Fireosaurus Rex, in which case I'm sorry for your loss but at least they died the most awesome death imaginable.
Stage two, and Trini the Yellow Ranger runs from a knife-wielding Putty, straight into the waiting arms of his compatriot. No-one ever said that high intelligence was a prerequisite of Ranger Corps membership. The Putties tend to use knives, and surprisingly they're not portrayed as over-the-top sci-fi or fantasy weapons but as realistic combat knives. They didn't use realistic knives in the show, did they? I can't remember, but surely they didn't show teenagers being menaced with Bowie knives by soulless killers. Given that some parents groups lobbied for the cancellation of MMPR because it was "too violent" they'd have had a field day if the Putties had acted like street punks from the Death Wish movies.
The Yellow Ranger gets sais as her weapon, which are like Jason's sword but not as good because they're tiny. That said, the two Putties pictured above are about to be introduced to said sais in a way that'll make them wish they were never born / created in Rita's monster-making machine, or at least they would wish that if they had emotions or sentience or anything.
This is Gnarly Gnome, the stage two boss. A gnome he may be, but his porcine appearance and magic rake make me wonder if he wasn't originally based on Pigsy from Journey to the West. Yes, that's a magic rake. Sideshow Bob will be terrified.
Much like the first boss, this fight can be dealt with by standing in place. Gnarly doesn't jump around but he does teleport from platform to platform, so all you need to do it position yourself in a place where you can hit a few of the platforms, wait for Gnarly Gnome to teleport into your killing zone and then stab him. Do that a few times and the Yellow Ranger's work is done. Next Ranger, please!
I'm going to take Zach, (although I think it was always spelled "Zack" in the show,) the Black Ranger. Boy, does he love to dance.
Of course, it's impossible not to dance when you're wearing giant M. C. Hammer trousers, because only such highly energetic leg movements can overcome the air resistance created by the trousers' voluminous profile.
When Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is discussed, often someone will bring up the point that the Black Ranger is played by the black character and the Yellow Ranger is played by the Asian character, (and to a lesser extent that one of the girls is the Pink Ranger,) but I think to search for racism in the MMPR series is misguided. Not so much in the videogame adaptation, though, because the developers chose to depict poor Zach as an unfortunate racial stereotype.
Oh dear. That's not nice, is it? I'd like to remind you that this game was released in 1994, and yet this game features the kind of crude stereotype that wouldn't look out of place in a cartoon from the Forties (Hammerpants aside). I suppose you have to remember that this game was made in Japan, and they don't really have the cultural understanding of why this is so wrong, but you'd have thought that someone on the American end of things would have checked the game out and maybe raised some concerns about the blatant racism. Mind you, if David Yost - the actor who played Billy the Blue Ranger and who is gay - is to be believed, he was forced out of the show after suffering homophobic abuse from the production staff, so I guess the Power Rangers family isn't necessarily as sweet and understanding as the show itself.
Back to the game, and yet more intolerance rears its ugly head as Zach is so incensed at seeing two Putties making out that swings his axe at their neck. Stage three is a sewer level, joy of joys, and it features a gimmick of rising and falling water levels and a few swimming sections, which makes a change.
Not a nice change or even a particularly well-implemented change, but a change none-the-less. At least it breaks up the Putty punching, which is starting to get a little tired after only three stages.
Oh, and stage three also has these weirdoes:
They only appear in this stage, chasing you with a spiked board through these narrow tunnels where you can't turn around to attack them. The mind boggles at the kind of forward planning that would have stationed these guys at the entrance to each sewer tunnel, their entire existence dedicated to contact between steel spikes and lycra-clad buttocks, praying that the player has chosen the Pink Ranger for this stage. Weird.
Eye Guy is the boss. He's covered in eyes, he has a giant eye for a face, he shoots eyeballs at you. Eye Guy. I like him, or at least I like his design a lot - so much so that I'm considering decorating a bunch of ping-pong balls, attaching them to my clothes and attending this year's Hallowe'en parties as an eyeball monster. Thanks, Eye Guy - it'll look much cooler than last year's "hobo too lazy to make a Hallowe'en costume" costume.
By now you should have figured out the common thread that links all these bosses together, and that's that they like to move around the screen a lot, occasionally remembering to attack you. Eye Guy is much tougher than the previous two bosses, because he's combined the "moving" and "attacking" parts of his job into one move where he bounces directly at you, hoping to crush you in the slimy embrace of his many eyeballs. Don't worry, he's really slow and still not much of a threat. Just move when he jumps, chop him with your axe and try not to think about what'd happen to your eyeball if someone clobbered it with an axe.
Pink Ranger Kimberly is in charge of stage four, which takes place in... well, I'm not really sure. A derelict or partly-constructed mansion, maybe? It does have chandeliers. Yes, they drop on your head when you walk under them. It's videogame law, right between final bosses with two forms and ape shall not kill ape. Kimberly has an unusual fighting style that she seems to have picked up from watching too many fitness videos, but it generally gets the job done. However you learned to use it, a swift kick to the knackers is a vital component of any martial art worth its salt so aerobicjitsu gets a pass from me.
Her Ranger form is probably the most interesting of the bunch because it comes with a bow and arrow which can be used as a melee weapon when close and as a projectile for dealing with distant foes, although it attacks so slowly and does so little damage that it can be something of a liability. Still, it's nice to have the option and it looks pretty cool.
Just to show you that MMPR isn't solely about flat-plane brawling, here's a screenshot that shows off some of the platforming that you need to do. There's some in stage two, but this is where it starts getting more complicated, with railings you can hang from and the ability to wall-jump like something out of Ninja Gaiden. As with the fighting, it's handled competently enough but is about as innovative as magnolia paint, although, as ever, wall jumping is a fun touch, especially when you finish your leap with a kick to a Putty's facial area.
This is the boss, and while he may look like the offspring of a pirate and an Egyptian god he's actually a genie. A genie called Genie. Not terribly impressive, that - but his ability to summon knives and magical beams of energy make him the most entertaining fight thus far, mostly because he doesn't stick to the "hop around a lot" school of warriorhood. You might even have to (gasp) pay attention in this fight, because the enemies have finally reached a point where getting hit by them does enough damage to be something other than a trifling inconvenience.
One last note about the Pink Ranger: the developers didn't bother to make individual sprites for each Ranger, which you have to expect when all your heroes are essentially palette-swaps of each other even outside the videogame, but it is something of a shock to see Kimberly go from a matchstick-thin young waif to someone with the thighs of an Olympic cyclist.
There's only one Ranger left, so Billy the Blue Ranger leaps into the fray. He leaps in like a dope, wearing blue dungarees and using a fighting style that hasn't seen the light of day since the Three Stooges last used it, but at least he's trying.
Things pick up for Billy once he gets his Ranger gear on, because his weapon is probably the best in the game. It's a lance / trident / halberd thing, notably chiefly for its huge range and Rolento-like twirling attack that holds the enemy in place while clobbering them.
Pictured above: the benefits of a long-range weapon.
While I was never a huge Power Rangers fan, I did have my favourite and that favourite was, yes, Billy. Not because he and I shared the bond of both being massive nerds, but because his dinosaur power was a Triceratops, undeniably the coolest of the five. Also, both the youthful pedant and the dinosaur enthusiast in me appreciated that at least Billy's dinosaur power was based on an actual dinosaur, unlike the Black, Yellow and Pink Rangers. Mammals aren't dinosaurs, and neither are Pterodactyls, and it was schoolboy errors like these that meant I never became a truly hardcore MMPR fan.
And so, even as the years have rolled by, Billy remains my favourite because he can poke things from far away.
Something new to poke is the boss, a camo-coloured ninja beetle called Dark Warrior. He's reverted to bouncing around like the previous bosses, although he does this through smoke-shrouded ninja teleportation rather than something as pedestrian as jumping. However, wherever he teleports to it's never quite outside the range of Billy's - and I hope you'll excuse the wording here - gigantic weapon, and I managed to interrupt his attacks every time. I don’t think he managed to get a single move off in the entire fight, and once you throw in an ice-shower summoned by a smug-looking Triceratops, he didn't stand much of a chance.
All the Rangers have had their turn now, so what's next. A final showdown with Rita Repulsa? I'm totally taking Billy, that guy knows wha... hang on, something's happening.
The Rangers are posing, there are wire-frame graphics... this can only mean one thing - it's MegaZord time!
Yeah, that's pretty cool. For those of you not up on your MMPR knowledge, each Ranger has a robot-vehicle-thing based on their dinosaur / mammal / pterodactyl. What happens in every episode of the show is that Rita makes a monster, the Rangers fight it for a bit, Rita makes the monster grow to Godzilla-type dimensions (which begs the question "why not do that at the start?" and also the question "why not just make Godzilla?") and the Rangers summon their robot "Zords" together to form the MegaZord, a bigger robot with a sword. They fight, MegaZord wins, everyone goes home happy. So, what does the appearance of the MegaZord mean for this Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers videogame?
Well, it means a sudden genre shift from slightly-underdone side-scrolling brawler to an even more anaemic Street Fighter 2 clone. It'll be instantly familiar to you if you've ever played a one-on-one fighting game - there's one button to attack with attacks of varying power being performed dependant on the direction you're pressing on the pad, you hold back to block, that kind of thing. There are no SFII-style special moves, but the MegaZord does have a few tricks up its sleeve in the form of power attacks. The bar underneath your life gauge gradually fills, and each segment that's lit up grants access to a special move that's triggered though the handily simple method of pressing X. The more bar you’ve saved up the more powerful your attack, and they're mostly projectiles so hanging back, waiting for your bar to fill and unleashing hell is a perfectly viable tactic. It's very similar to the SNES Ultraman fighting games, although thankfully you don't have to finish your opponent with a special move to win - no, this guy was a pushover once I learned that he had no defence against a giant robot jumping at it and performing a downward slash with a sword the size of the Eiffel Tower. Then again, few things do.
After that warm-up battle to acquaint you with the controls, the game's final battle begins.
There's not much to say about it, really. Two giant robots duke it out on the moon, and when I say "duke it out" I mean I crouched down in front of this guy and hacked away at his ankles with a ferocity that would have done Annie Wilkes proud. I do like the background, though. Hopefully that's Curiosity's real goal on Mars - to build a neon, Las Vegas-style palace on the barren surface.
Obviously he has two forms. Did you not read what I said about videogame law? This form differs in that it is gold, but retains the weak ankles of the original model. The simplicity of the controls, with just one attack buttons and one special move button, mean there's a limit to how interesting this fight can be, and the MegaZord seems to actually be more powerful than the final boss. As long as you keep this guy at sword's length you shouldn't have any problem beating him, and this final fight would seem terribly anticlimactic if the rest of the game hadn't also been so easy.
Once you've lowered his health completely, the MegaZord finishes him with the trademark swing of its sword and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is complete. Without any text, scene of Rita Repulsa complaining about her headache or message of congratulation, the ending kicks in.
Are any of you even old enough to hold a driver's license? I suppose you probably get special dispensation if you've proven you can pilot a multi-part battle mech. The five heroes drive off into the sunset, Zach looking more like a terrible racist caricature than ever, in search of new Japanese shows to plunder for footage of colourful lycra and rubber monsters.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is a game that sets its targets low and hits them dead-on. It's simple, it's extremely easy and it has fewer original ideas than a shop mannequin, but what gameplay it contains is handled with competence. The fighting may be basic but it all works around a good, solid framework that is always consistent and sometimes, especially towards the end when there are more enemies about, kinda... fun. Basic, unadventurous fun with zero replay value, but a decent way to pass an hour or so if you've exhausted the more technically advanced games in your beat-em-up collection, and certainly not the travesty that licensed games so often are.
The biggest thing in MMPR's favour is the presentation, with good spritework and some nice animations, and the soundtrack is probably the highlight of the whole experience. I especially like stage 3's theme.
Earlier I said I was surprised by how good the music was, but that was before I saw the end credits. Apparently the music was co-composed by one Kinuyo Yamashita, presumably the same Kinuyo Yamashita who composed the soundtrack to the original Castlevania. The quality of the music makes much more sense now.
After all that, the part of MMPR that sticks with me the most is the strange atmosphere of the game. It's hard to explain, and it's probably just my overactive weirdo-senses tingling, but the game has a peculiar feeling of... detachment that I can't quite place. Things like the lack of any text or speech, the barren backgrounds, the Putties coming at you with knives and yes, the racism: there's just something about this game that doesn't quite feel right, like if you told me an urban legend about a haunted Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers cart I'd be more likely to believe it than a similar story about, say, Mario Kart. When you consider the schizophrenic nature of the game's creation - a game for American audiences, designed in Japan, based on an American TV show spliced together from Japanese footage - this feeling maybe makes a little more sense but hey - this is an article about a colourful, simplistic beat-em-up for kids and nostalgic twenty-somethings. On those criteria, it does okay. Just make sure you play as Billy and appreciate the mighty power of the (100% a dinosaur) Triceratops.