The original Power Rangers were imbued with the power of dinosaurs to aid them in their fight against evil. Later Power Rangers fought with the essence of jungle animals and ninjas coursing through their bodies. Some Power Rangers were given the spirit of modest family saloons and SUVs. See if you can guess which ones I'll be writing about today as I look at Natsume and Bandai's 1996 Super Famicom title Gekisou Sentai Carranger - Zenkai! Racer Senshi! The more astute amongst you will have spotted the clue in the title.
I'm no Power Rangers expert - I never really got into it as a kid, which seems odd given it's got dinosaur robots in it - but I know the basics, having absorbed them through cultural osmosis, my younger brother's insistence on watching Power Rangers: The Movie over and over again and (surprise surprise) through videogames. The way Power Rangers works is that footage is taken from an entry in the long-running Japanese Super Sentai series and reworked for an American market, the Japanese actors removed and replaced by "teens with attitude." Thus the 1992 series Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger was adapated into the first Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers series and Gekisou Sentai Carranger - the subject of today's game - became Power Rangers Turbo. If you were the kind of hardcore Power Rangers Turbo fan who spent their youth bemoaning the lack of a videogame based in the series, this one's for you.
Something worth mentioning before I get into the lycra-clad pugilism that this game offers is that Gekisou Sentai Carranger was not released on a standard Super Famicom cartridge. It worked with a device, developed by Bandai, called the Sufami Turbo: an adapter with two slots for smaller cartridges, like a siamese Super Game Boy. The point of the Sufami Turbo was twofold - it allowed for the cheaper production of games thanks to not requiring Nintendo's involvement, and the two-cart system allowed data to be shared between two games in a similar manner to the lock-on mechanic from Sonic and Knuckles. The Sufami Turbo didn't exactly set the hearts of Japanese Super Famicom players ablaze - there weren't many compatible games and the Nintendo 64 was released in the same year, so it's ended up as a curiosity and little more. Gekisou Sentai Carranger doesn't even take advantage of the link feature, so for the purposes of this article you can pretend it's a normal Super Famicom game.
Here are the Carrangers themselves, arrayed in all the colours of the rainbow except for orange and purple. Has there ever been an Orange Ranger? I might look that up later. I'm sure there's a wiki. There's always a wiki. A vast, encyclopaedic and faintly creepy wiki.
Anyway, the Carrangers. I'm sure that's supposed to be a gesture signalling barely-restrained, hot-blooded determination, but it looks like the Red Carranger is calling me a wanker. Screw you, Red Carranger.
Let's not fight, Red Carranger. Let's not fight each other, I mean. That green bloke over there is fair game, so go and punch him instead. Red Carranager is most likely the leader of the team - the red ones usually are - so he seemed like the right choice to lead the charge into Gekisou Sentai Carranger's first stage and the battle against these green blokes. Apparently they're called Wumpers. Why yes, I did look that up on a wiki. The Wumpers are the footsoldiers of a gang of delinquent space drivers called Bowzock who are tricked into destroying planets by an evil being called Exhaus. I'm beginning to suspect that Gekisou Sentai Carranger is not particularly serious, even for a Super Sentai show.
The Wumpers don't pose much of a threat, especially now that I've managed to uncover a sword by jump-kicking into a traffic sign. I'd have thought that being given a weapon was part of the whole "become a Power Ranger" deal and that I wouldn't have to find my cosmic blade by beating up street furniture, but like I said I'm not a Power Rangers expert. Maybe hitting roadsigns is how I prove my worth. We can't have just anyone covering themselves in spandex, sticking their head into a Tupperware box and claiming to be a Power Ranger, now can we? Many are called, but only the finest sign-kickers are chosen.
As I'm sure you can tell from the screenshots, Gekisou Sentai Carranger is a basic side-scrolling-action-platformer-type affair. Extremely basic, in fact, with only two buttons used for jump and attack. That's all you'll be doing in this game, jumping and attacking. You can't even crouch, which which make it easy to compare Carranger to a stripped-down Mega Man game. Gekisou Sentai Carranger is to Mega Man 7 as Duplo is to Lego: the same basic concept only chunkier, smoother, easier and not nearly as complex. What gameplay there is works well enough, with responsive controls and no frustrating gameplay mechanics - there's just not much of it.
One thing you can do is collect a steering wheel icon. This summons a car that your Ranger then uses to smash into their enemies. I get that Carranger has an automobile theme but promoting hit-and-run driving seems a little out of place. It just feels less wholesome than stabbing enemies with a sword, a statement that makes no sense but which nevertheless feels true. Also, check out that car. If you were nine years old and someone told you to draw a fast car, that's the car you'd draw.
There's not much more to say about this stage, really - simply move from left to right, defeating the Wumpers in your way. It's a piece of cake if you have the sword, but even though you do lose your weapon if you take a hit, Red Carranger's fists and feet are more than enough to get the job done.
The only surprising thing you're likely to encounter is the dark section pictured above. If you miss a jump and fall off the bottom of the screen you don't suffer the usual videogame death: instead you have to get through this optional area, illuminated only by the light that beams directly from your face and which must be terribly distracting, until you can rejoin the regular path. All of the game's stages feature these areas as punishment for poor platforming, although it does make jumping over chasms considerably less nerve-wracking when you know a fall won't result in immediate death.
Naturally there's a boss at the end of the stage, and the wiki - oh glorious wiki, oh wise and all-knowing wiki - informs me that this pompadour-sporting, body-shaped-like-a-cartoon-heart-having, eyeballs-where-his-nipples-should-be interstellar fiend is called BB Donpa. He's Bowzock's music man, as you can see by the musical notes he's firing at me, and he's known as "the Beethoven of Outer Space". I have never wanted a time machine more in my life, just so I can travel back to the turn of the 18th century, find ol' Ludwig van and show him a picture of BB Donpa while explaining that he's "the you of outer space." To this, Beethoven would no doubt respond with a confused expression and the words "what? I can't hear you, I'm deaf."
Once he's taken enough damage, BB Donpa leaps into the distance and summons cars that hurtle out of the sky in an attempt to crush the Carranger. It looks impressive, I'll grant you that, but it's easily avoided by walking in the opposite direction. Donpa's attacks are taken straight from the most basic textbooks of videogame villainy - Thwart Heroic Upstarts and Conquer Worlds the Dr. Wily Way or Bowser's Plumber-Stompin' 101, something like that - and as such you'll have no trouble avoiding Donpa's projectiles and punching him to death.
Your reward for clearing stage one, besides a shot at tackling stage two, is this picture of the Carrangers themselves. I'm impressed by how serious they look, considering how they're dressed. Do I detect a faint hint of aloofness emanating from Green Carranger? I reckon he thinks he's better than this. He's probably right.
It's Yellow Carranger's turn, and as she... hang on, is the yellow ranger a girl in this one? Oh, she is, okay. Yellow Carranger heads out across the moonlit clifftops, where the Wumpers are hanging around and not really causing much of a nuisance. That's not going to stop Yellow from punching them all, mind you.
In fact, she loves punching things so much that her weapon is a giant knuckleduster. I think that's what it's supposed to be, although given the vehicular theme of Gekisou Sentai Carranger I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't start out as some sort of anti-theft steering lock that Yellow has fashioned into a set of brass knuckles.
Aside from slapping Wumpers about and wondering when you're going to be given the keys to the giant robots Power Rangers usually have access to, Carranger's gameplay revolves around finding gears. You're aiming to collect 250 gears before the end of the game, and I'll explain why that is when we get there, but for now I'll just say we need to find them. Sometimes they're dropped by defeated enemies, but mostly they're hidden in the scenery and can be dislodged with a swift punch. It's not just obvious targets for punching, like the road signs, that hold gears: they can be hidden in any bit of the background, from these tree stumps to the corners of cliffs, ruined cars and bits of scaffolding. This means that 90% of the game is spent attacking every part of the screen that isn't just empty air in the hopes of discovering some gears or the weapons and health power-ups that can also be found. It's hardly the most thrilling of gameplay mechanics, but it's a good job Bandai included it because otherwise there's just not that much to do.
Apart from fighting bosses, I mean. This is MM Mogu, and he's Bowzock's "best eater." That's quite the come-down from being compared to one of the greatest composers in history. It sounds like something a parent would say about their distinctly un-gifted child: "his brother's captain of the football team, his sister plays first violin and Mogu? He, uh, well, he can eat real good."
Unsurprisingly, Mogu is even easier to beat than his predecessor. He's only got one move, which is to grab your Ranger with his fork and chew on them, but before he does this move he clangs his cutlery together and generally makes it really obvious he's about to attack. I'm sorry, MM Mogu, but your threat level is down there with a week-old puppy or athlete's foot. I'm still going to punch you until you explode, of course.
The Pink Ranger tackles stage three. The Pink Ranger is definitely a woman - if you can count on the Power Rangers franchise for one thing, it's to rigidly stick to gender norms regarding the colour pink. Also, rubber monsters.
Stage three is a cave / construction site environment, and you're soon faced with the first enemy in the game that might make you pause for a moment. This mining Wumpers cause rocks to fly out whenever they strike the ground, and they can be unpredictable. They're unlikely to kill you or anything, because health items are are more common than vile insults in a YouTube comments section, but it can be annoying if you get caught between them and they buffet you around. Even if you were to run out of health it's not a big deal, because it's impossible to get a game over in Gekisou Sentai Carranger. Yup, you have infinite lives and while dying sends you back to the start of the level or boss battle the stages are so short it makes little difference.
The Pink Ranger's weapon is a bow: somewhat more graceful than knuckledusters, but also less useful. A projectile weapon sounds like a good idea, but when the sprites are so large and the play area so compact you rarely get a chance to make the ranged attacks work for you.
I also found out that the Pink Ranger can double-jump. None of the other Rangers I've used could double jump, although now I'm wondering if they had special talents I didn't notice before. I'm at a loss to think what they could be, although I know they definitely don't include crouching. It's amazing how little you notice the ability to crouch in a game like this until it's taken away. I compensated for my loss by performing more jumping kicks.
The best part of this stage is undoubtedly the penalty route. If you fall down a hole, you find yourself in a dark corridor with only an indestructible monster bulldozer for company. You can knock it back with punches but it keeps on coming, giggling to itself the whole time as it tries to crush you to death. It's a shame I didn't know about this before this week, it would have been a shoo-in for the Halloween ephemera article.
It's the boss. I... I don't really know what to say about him. His name's NN Nerenko? And he's Bowzock's graffiti artist? I'm not sure how throwing your tag up ties in with being... whatever that thing is. Multi-faced circus clown with Popeye's forearms and cacti for shoulders? He's freaking me out. It's his placid expression. He's like Hannibal Lecter, seemingly calm on the outside but underneath he's all about sadism and eating human flesh. And petty vandalism, but that's just Nerenko, not Hannibal.
I don't remember much about this fight. I think my brain tried to block it out. All I have is the vague recollection that Nerenko attacks by detaching his spiky shoulders and rolling them at you, and that the fight was easy because it was the only part of the stage where the Pink Ranger's bow was useful.
Look, up in the sky! It's the Blue Carranger, and the oddly adorable Wumper that's trying to blow him up by throwing cartoon bombs while he hides behind an umbrella! It's no great shakes in the gameplay department, but Gekisou Sentai Carranger is at least fun to look at. The graphics are big, bold, nicely cartoony while still being well detailed, and the enemies have a lot of personality. Sure, in the case of the last boss that personality used to belong to Ed Gein, but on the whole the Wumpers are a charming bunch and it's regrettable that I have to beat them to death.
Blue Carranger's weapon is a gun, a much more practical choice than Pink's unwieldy bow but one that still suffers from the problems of need some distance between you and the target for it to be truly effective. Blue has a special move, too, and my earlier comparisons to Mega Man seem ever-more accurate now that I'm playing as a blue guy with big feet who can slide along the ground. The slide isn't nearly as useful as Pink's double jump, especially on this stage where I have to do some actual platforming, but it's better than nothing.
This stage has a mid-boss, the moon-headed creep known as Deputy Leader Zelmoda. The echoes of Mega Man are coming thick and fast now: when you hit Zelmoda, he turns into a ball of electricity and flies to the other side of the screen, hurting you if you get in his way, much like the battles with the Yellow Devil in the Mega Man series only easier. Much, much easier, as Zelmoda's attack pattern has all the unpredictability of the ocean tides and can be avoided every time once you seen it twice. He either goes straight across the screen or wobbles across on a sine wave, and the most interesting part of the fight is the face he pulls when you manage to hit him.
Sorry, did I say interesting? I meant terrifying. He looks like Quentin Tarantino after a 50,000 volt shock to the genitals.
The stage's main boss is much more sedate. There's nothing to fear from an elf with a robotic pumpkin-burger for a head, except the tornadoes he can fire at you because they're the most difficult attack to avoid in the entire game. They're not hard to avoid, just the harder than anything else in the game. Have I mentioned that this is an extremely easy game? I don't feel like I'm pushing that angle hard enough. Your nan could complete this game. My nan could complete this game, and she struggles with changing channels on the TV.
The boss' name is KK Esu, and he's a lowly dishwasher for the Bowzock gang, but when he takes a hit his secret is revealed - he's actually champion space car racer Speed King Max, who has been brainwashed by the Bowzocks. I find the best way to deal with any neurological impairment is to punch the victim as hard and as often as possible, and if you manage to hit the boss enough times Speed King Max regains his memories and flies up into the heavens, all sparkly-like. Like an angel, even. I think I killed Speed King Max. This isn't going to reflect well on the Power Rangers brand.
The final stage has arrived, and the honour of tackling falls to Green Carranger by virtue of him being the only ranger I haven't used yet. The first half of the level sees you negotiating a half-built space-road and destroying the flying Wumpers that are overseeing construction. The evil Exhaus' big plan was to manipulate the Bowzocks into destroying the Earth, thus making room for his cosmic highway. You might recognise this plot from the opening of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although Exhaus' poetical talents are not noted. What I can tell you about Exhaus is that he doesn't make an appearance in this game at all, presumably because he's (according to the infallible and all-knowing wiki) bigger than a planet. Don't worry, there's still a final boss to deal with.
Here's the Green Carranger causing havoc in a space-bar with his big gun. That's his weapon, a big gun. It's like the Blue Carranger's gun, only bigger. Green's special power is that if you hold the button down after you jump he floats back to the ground more slowly, which I suppose makes him the Princess Peach of the group. If only Peach had a big gun, maybe she could deal with Bowser herself instead of relying on Mario to save her. Plumbers are not known for their dependability, so I'm sure she'll be ordering that gun any day now.
Oh, and I looked it up - the Red and Yellow Rangers do have special powers. Yellow runs slightly faster than the others, and Red does double damage to enemies when he attacks with his sword. How exciting. That does mean that Red is the best character to use, because a lot of Gekisou Sentai Carranger is spent waiting for the bosses to become vulnerable again once you've hit them, and the faster you can dispatch them the fewer times you'll have to wade through their easily-avoidable attack patterns.
Speaking of easily-avoidable attack patterns, here's the final boss: President Gynamo! He's half dynamo, half gynaecologist! Not, not really, but he does have the power to make vehicles sentient - an admittedly interesting power, and one that sets up a possible future crossover with Thomas the Tank Engine. Gynamo's helldozer may look impressive, but there are only two ways for it to hurt you. It either fires some blobs up into the air that then rain down on you and which are easily avoided by moving sideways, or it can launch its plow at you. That's your cue to do some damage because while the plow has been sent out to crush you, it's not protecting the front of the truck, so you can hop over the advancing shield - a particularly simple task if you're using the Pink or Green Rangers - and smash Gynamo's ride up. Do that a few times and Gynamo is defeated!
But wait! As the spacestation collapses, a loose rock falls from above and clonks the heroic Ranger on the head. No, I'm not making this up. While the Carranger is disabled by his new-found concussion and several impacted vertebrae, Gynamo seizes his chance to blow up the Earth.
The Carrangers are defeated, the Earth is destroyed and Gynamo survives to continue his evil reign alongside a woman who looks like she's just been fired out of a cannon and through a row of flamingoes. What a bummer. Surely the game can't end like this?
Not if you collect a load of gears, it won't. I said they'd be important, and collecting gears is the key to unlocking Gekisou Sentai Carranger's good, happy and much more Power Rangers-y ending. For every fifty gears you find, one of the Rangers' vehicles is restored to working order - a pretty sweet deal for the Red Ranger, who gets a spiffy red sports car, but less exciting for the Yellow Ranger and her boxy 4X4. Collecting 250 gears over the course of the game repairs all five vehicles, allowing them to combine into the giant robot RV Robo. Let me guess, in Power Rangers Turbo it was called the Turbo Megazord.
With the RV Robo at your command, Gynamo's typically Super Sentai plans to grow to giant size are thwarted and the Earth is saved. Saved by a cutscene, that is, because while you may have spent your time repairing the RV Robo that doesn't mean you're allowed to control it. All that effort and not even one chance to pilot a giant robot? What a rip-off.
Aside from the disappointing lack of robo-combat, Gekisou Sentai Carranger - Zenkai! Racer Senshi was a fairly enjoyable experience. Sure, it's a Fisher-Price version of Mega Man, it's about as challenging as beating Stevie Wonder at I-Spy and the simplicity of its gameplay makes Tetris look like Dark Souls, but so what? It's fun and breezy, a nice twenty-minute escape for those times when you've played every other SNES action platformer worth bothering with. I'm especially fond of the graphics, as mentioned previously, and the soundtrack is good too - catchy and appropriately heroic. Here, check out the stage one theme.
In short, if your standards aren't too high and you like Power Rangers, you can probably squeeze some fun out of this one. If you like piloting giant robots, stay away. It'll only break your heart.