Akira Yamaoka, premier videogame composer and all-round talented fella, is best know for his work on the Silent Hill series. And rightly so; rarely has there been such a perfect fit between a videogame and its music, and said music is as an important aspect of the terror as the graphics or the story. Some examples? Sure, why not.

"White Noiz", from the sublime Silent Hill 2 soundtrack. Haunting, ethereal, just what you want for the story of a deluded madman and his trip to the world's worst tourist destination outside Pyongyang.

Or how about the original Silent Hill's "Until Death", which is raw unescapable horror in musical form. I mean, if you are going to put this on your MP3 player, make sure it doesn't randomly come on when you're walking home from a friend's house after midnight. People don't take kindly to nearby stangers shrieking like little girls in the middle of the night.
So the music of the Silent Hill series is some of the best around, but that's only part of Yamaoka's musical output since he joined Konami in 1993. Today, I'll be looking at some other contributions he's made to the videogame music canon outside the sinister world of Silent Hill.

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2

To my mind, not enough games feature anthropomorphic opossums that fly jetpacks and pilot giant robots, but then again I am old and out of touch. The games that do fall into this category are the Rocket Knight Adventure games, in which the heroic Sparkster engages in some excellent 16-bit platform japery, all set to excellent music.
A problem arises when trying to attribute music from this era of gaming to a specific composer, because they were often part of a team and individuals were rarely credited. What is know is that Akira Yamaoka worked on the soundtrack to the Sparkster:RKA2 (along with the equally talented Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane), so here's a track from that very game.

International Superstar Soccer Pro '98

Akira Yamaoka and football might seem like a strange fit, but someone had to create the score for Konami's flagship sports title and Yamaoka got the job. He worked on the soundtracks for both ISS Pro and ISS Pro '98 (Winning Eleven 3 and 4 in Japan), and while the music is catchy in its way, it's not going to blow your mind - here's the "Play Demo" track to help you hear what I mean. That said, it's a lot better than the music composed for most sports games, and nowadays you don't even get that; just (shudder) EA TRAX and its ilk. One thing about this: is it just me, or does it have a particularly "PS1" quality to it? For me, there's some kind of indescribable quality that just screams "Playstation 1 music!" Weird.

Gradius III & IV Collection

Created between Silent Hill 1 and 2, Gradius III & IV is a compilation of... well, you figure it out. A new system means new music needs to be created for the menus and so on, and here Yamaoka proves he's no slouch at recreating that glorious arcade-style Gradius music. This is "Select", the title screen theme, and aside from being insanely catchy it really does feel like a lost track from some early-'90s shooter.

Contra: Shattered Soldier

Shattered Soldier may well be the most overlooked Contra game, which is a shame because it's pretty good. Even more of a shame is that fact that it's soundtrack isn't more widely celebrated, because it's bloody fantastic. This track is "Venus", and it's more metal than a chrome-plated steel mill. Just listen to that guitar! You could play this to Dave Mustaine and not feel like he was going to judge you harshly. Some of the soundtrack has a more electro feel to it, which brings me nicely to...

Beatmania (Various)

Yamaoka has contributed a number of tracks to Konami's arcade DJ-em-up Beatmania series, as well as other games in the "Bemani" series such as Guitar Freaks. His Beatmania work is probably the most "electro" of his work, so if you like his stuff but would prefer something without the guitars, this is your best bet.

Rumble Roses

Ah, Rumble Roses: Konami's all-female wrestling title has the core of a good game in there, but it's quickly overshadowed by the fact you can't help but feel like a massive perv when you play it. The soundtrack was composed by quite a few different artists, but here's Yamaoka's contribution: the hard-rocking "I'm Too Virtuous", theme of the "sexy teacher" character. That is, as opposed to the "sexy nurse" or the "sexy cowgirl" or the "sexy Mongolian wrestler". Do you see where they were going with this?


Not content to stick to videogames, in 2006 Yamaoka released a solo album called IFuturelist. It bears some similarity to his videogame work, and indeed some of the songs are longer, remixed versions of Beatmania tracks. It's definitely more on the electro side of things, although there some Silent Hill-esque tracks on there, such as "Adjust Rain". This is my personal favourite, though; "Love Me Do", a pounding beast made of almost sub-sonic bass and synthesiser flourishes.

Shadows of the Damned

After working on seven (or eight if you count Silent Hill: The Arcade) and various other titles, Yamaoka left Konami in 2009. Fortunately, he soon joined Grasshopper, and the dream team of Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami. Their first game was Shadows of the Damned, and Yamaoka's talents are once again at the forefront.

It features more of his heavy rock stylings, such as in "G Drive", the theme of the hero and his skeleton motorbike...

... as well as more sedate, unsettling fare such as "Smile For a Broken Dawn".
Next on the Grasshopper crazy train is Lollipop Chainsaw, a sweet little title about a cheerleader who kills zombies with a chainsaw. With Suda 51 behind it and Yamaoka providing the music, I'm excited about it already.

And there you have it. Renowned for his Silent Hill music, but with more strings to his bow than you might think, hopefully Akira Yamaoka will be making (and pushing the boundaries of) videogame music for a long time to come.



Sly Spy: a videogame in which you search for Sylvester Stallone in pictures of various crowed locations. No, of course not: it's an action-packed espionage-em-up by Data East, released into the world's arcades in 1989. It's a game about a spy, so would you care to guess where Sly Spy takes most of its "inspiration" from?

It's James Bond, obviously. Sly is an American version of a British spy created by Japanese developers, so this should be interesting.
Sly gets the call that he's needed for a mission. And what is his mission? I'll be jiggered if I know, because instead of a plot Sly Spy just throws a few random pieces of information at you and then looks at your reproachfully as if to say "what? You want more? Figure it out yourself, tough guy".
In the attract mode, you see the President of the USA and his wife being menaced by some terrorist types.

Gunshots ring out, the screen turns red... and the incident is never mentioned again, because apparently the brutal murder of the leader of the free world isn't interesting enough to warrant a spinning newspaper headline, or even wry comment from Sly himself. Speaking of our hero, what's he doing while the President is being killed?

Why, he's jumping out of a plane! I'm sure this'll be the start of an exciting action sequence!

Well, sort of. Sly skydives his way down to Washington D.C., or whatever fictional analogue replaces it, all the while engaged in a slightly slow and clumsy gun battle with some falling terrorists. So much for innocent people not getting hurt; all those dead terrorists and spent casings have to land somewhere, Sly, and I hope you can handle a lifetime of guilt when you learn a child was killed after the bullet-riddled corpse of your enemy landed on their poor, vulnerable head.

After a while, Sly reaches a low enough altitude to deploy his 'chute. Naturally, it's a giant American flag. Because he's a spy, you see. A sly spy. What baffles me most is why Sly is wearing a tuxedo, besides the obvious reason. "Hey, Sly!" his handler shouted, "don't you want to put on, I dunno, a bulletproof vest? A helmet? One of these experimental stealth suits?" Sly turned, raised his eyebrow and said "not today - I need to be dressed to kill".

He hits the ground running, and the gameplay abruptly changes from falling downwards and shooting things to moving sideways and shooting things. This is the most common amongst Sly Spy's various gameplay styles, and it's the most simple. One button to jump, one button to shoot, and the whole thing is rather reminiscent of Namco's Rolling Thunder series.
Abraham Lincoln looks on pensively. Well, Abe would tend to get nervous around gunfire. As you can see, your enemies are a standard assortment of beret-wearing terrorists, their genocidal tendencies acting as further proof of the inherent evil of all beret-wearing people.

Sly interrogates a baddie at the end of the stage. He misses his opportunity for a Bond-style quip, perhaps something about how he just "dropped in" on their criminal organisation, but at least he gets the info he needs. By threatening a man with a gun, after a pitched battle in one of America's most famous landmarks. I'm beginning to suspect "Sly" is something of a misnomer.

Motorbikes and the spies that ride them next, as Sly burns rubber out of the city while shooting bad guys with the gun on front. As gadgets go, it's hardly up there with Bond's Aston Martin, is it? "Ah, Sly, it's Q here. This is your new bike. We were going to give it rocket boosters, oil slicks and a built-in Martini glass holder, but due to budget constraints we just taped a pistol to the front of an ordinary bike. Enjoy!"
Once you catch the black sedan and shoots the occupants, Sly's bike suddenly turns into a Ferrari and he arrives at the docks to see the valets arguing over who gets to park his car.

Sly shoots them dead. This was the first time I noticed that the enemies make an "uhh" noise when they're hit, so if you shoot a row of them in quick succession it makes an undulating "uhhUHHuhhuhh" noise that you really wouldn't want to hear coming out of your parent's bedroom, but is pretty amusing in these circumstances.
The gameplay in the on-foot sections is the most entertaining, even if it is fairly generic. Actually, genericness is my lasting impression of Sly Spy. Nothing stands out as either being good enough to raise a smile or bad enough to make me wish I wasn't playing, giving the game overall feeling of a bowl of Shredded Wheat; solid, dependable, maybe even occasionally pleasant, but nothing to get excited about.
And when Sly Spy isn't being average, it's stealing from the Bond franchise. For example, the boss of docks...

...is Jaws. Or rather, it's Jaws after he realised that being able to bite things really hard is a superpower of such limited usefulness that even Dazzler was laughing at him, so he had his arms cybernetically enhanced as well. Perhaps "enhanced" is a touch generous, because it seems more like he's simply wrapped them in metal.
Notice the billboard for Bad Dudes at the top of the screen. There are a few more Data East games in the background, like Chelnov and Karnov. A nice touch in this fight is that his Jaws/Arms hits you, he knocks your gun away and you have to beat him with a variety of kung-fu kicks instead. Whichever way you do it, Jaws/Arms isn't much of a challenge, and Sly can move on to the first underwater stage.

Given that Sly is based on James Bond, I'm going to assume that "harpoon" means "penis".

Another Bond reference is your ability to collect the "Golden Gun", awarded to you for collecting enough of a certain power-up. Unlike the original, this Golden Gun is a rifle that fires huge energy bolts, which is as close as Sly gets to having any gadgets.
Not much else to say here, except these sharks are either particularly well-trained or extremely fussy eaters because the villains can freely swim amongst them while Sly becomes so much chum. I usually hate swimming-based stages in videogames, but this one isn't as bad as it could have been, mostly because no attempt has been made to recreate the sensation of being underwater.

The boss is a man in a deep-sea diving suit, which comes with all the drawbacks that you would expect from trying to fight in a full-body suit made of three-inch-thick steel. In fact, all this chump can do is extend a claw at you, so if you position yourself correctly, you can fire away with impunity. After a while he summons a slightly larger shark, but it's really not much of a threat.

Next up, a visit to a warehouse. None of Bond's exotic locales for us, no balmy evenings on tropical beaches or nights amongst Monaco's high roller; nope, just grubby warehouses filled with colour-coordinated terrorists. Maybe this was Data East's attempt at subtly highlighting the dirty and dangerous nature of a real-life spy's work? Perhaps, but more likely it's the standard game design philosophy of "when in doubt, stick a warehouse in there".

Deep in the warehouse, there's a woman that needs rescuing. She hasn't been mentioned before and is no way connected to the plot, so I guess it's just her good fortune that a secret agent happened to wander through the base where she was being held hostage. Imagine if Sly hadn't shown up, she could have been there of a) days or b) until those tigers figured out how to get up there. Yes, the boss is a stream of tigers. Go ahead Sly, endanger their species some more!

Thanks, anonymous lady who has no bearing on the plot and is never seen again! Please collect your memorial Sly Spy collector's plate on your way out.

The next stage starts off in a cave but quickly becomes another warehouse: in its defence, at least this one has some kind of submarine, possibly an "advanced" one with "stealth tech" that can "hack the mainframe" or something.
The main purpose of this level is to reinforce the (surprisingly effective) tactics of the villains: just flood the room with as many troops as possible. Your bullets don't travel through enemies, so while this strategy may be a little harsh on the first meat-shields that make it to you, their comrades behind them will honour their sacrifice by killing Sly, possibly by crushing him under a mountain of dead bodies.

The boss is Oddjob in all but name, (because he doesn't have a name,) content to try and kill the gun-toting, highly-trained super spy by throwing a hat at him. Yeah, Sly Spy doesn't have the most difficult bosses. In fact, I'd go as far to as to say that Sly Spy has the easiest set of bosses of any arcade game I've ever played, so if you want a bit of arcade action but don't want to be dying constantly, this game might be a good bet.
Actually, with those red trousers and that jacket, Fraudjob here looks like he's dressed as Michael Jackson.

There's another brief swimming stage, and this time you can destroy the deep-sea diver once and for all. He's no tougher than last time, and he's soon condemned to death by drowning as his suit crumbles. My suggested Bond-style rejoinder? "He couldn't handle the pressure!" Although, I'm underwater so there's nobody to hear it, and even if they did it'd sound like "wbb wbbnnb hwnbbl wb bwebbw!"

Time for the final stage, and Sly reaches the nuclear bomb which apparently the terrorists are going to use for something. If you guessed that the final stage was simply a cheap way to pad out the game by making you fight all the bosses again, I'd say you were terribly cynical. Utterly correct, but cynical. Jaws, the tigers and Oddjob all return, and they're no more difficult than they were last time. Well, I tell a lie; the tigers were more difficult, but that's because I hadn't regained my gun after losing it in the second Jaws fight. I don't care how good an agent you are, engaging in a fistfight with a tiger is only going to end in pain, failure and a slightly fatter tiger.

Once you climbed the missile and re-defeated the bosses, your final foe awaits. It's a fat dude. Yep. I've never seen him before; presumably he's the leader of the Council for World Domination, but who knows? He could be the bloody janitor. His fiendish trap designed to finish you off is even worse than Magneto's in the NES Wolverine game - all it is is a forcefield and a descending spiked ceiling. Shoot the forcefield until it disappears, walk out, kill leader of global terrorist organisation. The end!

So, the President did survive his assassination attempt, unless the vice-President received a sudden promotion. Whoever it is, they appear to be having a stroke. As far as I'm aware, there's nothing extra to see in Sly Spy and his line about things I "missed" is simply a Total Carnage­ Pleasure Dome-style tease to get you to chuck more credits in. For shame, Data East, for shame. For his part, Sly celebrates his victory over international terrorism the only way he knows how...

...by getting a group of women to kiss his fully-clothed body on the White House lawn. Hey, he saved the world, it's his perogative.
That's Sly Spy, then. Worth playing? Well, it's sort of difficult to say. It's managed to land itself in a perfectly gray central zone, with nothing either bad enough to discourage you from playing it nor good enough to recommend it. Graphics are average, the music's average, and while the gimmick of having several gameplay styles seems like a good idea, they're all very similar. On the whole, give it a go if you're a big Bond fan - otherwise, stick to Rolling Thunder.



They say that to be truly happy, you have to enjoy the simple things in life. A single flower's bloom. The laughter of children. Shooting hordes of giant spiders with an incendiary shotgun. Yes, the happy day has finally arrived when the EDF rises again to take on the Ravager hordes in Vicious Cycle's PS3/Xbox 360 exterminate-em-up Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon.

This is the first review I've done of a newly-released game, so you can probably guess that EDF:IA is something very close to my heart. For those of you who haven't sampled the delights of the Earth Defence Force series, here's a quick run-down. Originally developed by Sandlot and released as The Chikyuu Boueigun for the budget Simple 2000 series of Playstation 2 games, the EDF games are a series of third-person shooters set during an alien invasion. Most of the enemies are huge, mutated insects like ants and spiders, along with flying saucers, robots and the occasional distant relative of Godzilla. You play as an EDF trooper outfitted with a variety of weapons, dropped into a destructible city with one goal and one goal only: blow the everloving crap out of anything that moves.

The first three games in the series were released in the West as Monster Attack, Global Defence Force (both PS2) and Earth Defence Force 2017 (Xbox 360), and their style of simple yet enthralling action mixed with B-movie corniness has seen them achieve cult status amongst gamers. My own EDF experience mostly comes from the glorious Global Defence Force, a game I utterly adore and which is one of the PS2's true underappreciated classics. So, when news of a new sequel was announced I was excited and probably did some kind of special dance to celebrate, but I forget. My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by the news that EDF: Insect Armageddon was being developed by a different company, with the torch being passed from Sandlot to Vicious Cycle. Ever since the dreck that resulted from Konami farming out my beloved Silent Hill franchise to small, inexperienced developers, I've been wary of sudden developer shifts. The question is: could Vicious Cycle create a new EDF game worthy of its predecessors?

Happily, the answer is a (nearly completely) resounding yes. The basic set-up is the same: you're an EDF soldier tasked with destroying the alien hordes in a destructible city. So far, so good. As soon as you start playing, you realise that VC are clearly big fans of the franchise, and that feeling only gets stronger as the first wave of ants comes scurrying down the street at you, climbing over buildings and gobbing acid at you. Then an ant throws a car at you and you use your dodge move to roll out of the way. Unless you're some heartless monster, you smile as you get the ant in your sights and blow him away. EDF is back.

EDF's roots lie in simple arcade shooters like Smash T.V. and later monster-filled FPS games like Serious Sam. There's no boring peek-a-boo gunfights from behind cover here, nor poorly-implemented stealth missions: it's just pure blasting action all the way. The words "simple" and "pure" get used a lot when people discuss the EDF games, and with good reason, because that's a major source of their charm. Or course, I'm not saying that all videogames should be basic or boiled down to their bare bones, but there's enough room in the marketplace for both.

It's difficult to play EDF:IA and not compare it to Global Defence Force, so I won't. Instead, it can illustrate some of the improvements Vicious Cycle have made while keeping the core EDF formula intact. Being a budget-label release, GDF was almost minimalistic in its approach: you had two types of trooper to choose from, one that could fly and one that couldn't. You carried two weapons into battle, and occasionally you could get in a vehicle... and that was it. EDF:IA expands this to four troop types: the basic Trooper, an all-round character who can use a wide ranger of weapons, the lightly-armoured Jet unit, which can fly and uses plasma weaponry, the Tactical unit which can deploy turrets and my personal favourite, the Battle armour, a great fat lump of a warrior who equips the heaviest of weapons and has an energy shield.

The new troop types add a welcome diversity to the game, and they are much better balanced than in GDF, where the flying Pale Wing was a soaring angel of plasma-based death while the Infantry was a plodding lump of spider-bait. All the armours can be levelled up, unlocking new weapons (around 300 in total), increasing their armour and upgrading their special skills.

Graphics have never been the strong point of the EDF series, with power better spent on putting more enemies in your firing reticule, but EDF:IA is definitely a step up from from the previous game. The city of New Detroit looks good (but not so good you feel bad about leveling the place,) and the Ravagers themselves look more menacing than ever. In particular, the new robot mantis enemy looks great, and all around the cast of foes are impressively gruesome in their scaled-up insectoid way. The sound is decent, although I don't remember hearing any of the music over my explosions, and the voice acting is pitched just right for the B-movie atmosphere. It's even quite funny at times, particulary the clueless Intel officer and your comrades shouting at you to level up quicker so they can have a better gun, although you do hear the same phrases repeated quite a lot: I have taken to trying to kill my teammates everytime they tell me about how their brother-in-law used to be an exterminator. Actually, I should give the AI bots some credit: you get two computer-controlled teammates (although you can turn them off for a sterner challenge) and, aside from occasionally wandering into the path of your missiles, they're actually quite useful and not too dumb.

As always with the EDF series, though, it's the gameplay that shines. As I've said, it's simple, but it's simple done right. Your trooper is responsive and controls nicely, the enemies come thick and fast and the larger battles are downright impressive. There is a simple (that word again) joy in pumping a magazine's worth of high-explosive grenades into an advancing column of enemies and watching the city crumble, and it's an experience that you don't find all that often in the age of games like Call of Duty.

Of course EDF:IA isn't perfect. The main problem is the relative brevity of the campaign: with only 15 missions, it's a fraction of the length of GDF which clocked in at around 50 missions. The play time is extended by the three difficulty levels, (although GDF's aptly-named Impossible difficulty has been dropped, presumably for being, well, fucking impossible,) a survival mode and the unlockable Campaign Remix mode which sees you taking on the missions again but with different, more difficult enemy patterns. Still, if the biggest problem with a game is that you just want more, more, more, then something must be going right. The only other real problem (on the PS3 version, at least) is a slight audio glitch in some of the levels.

Something that's not really a problem, or at least not a problem I can explain adequately, is that is lacks just a smidgen of GDF's je ne sais quoi. It's possibly that I played GDF first and it holds a special place in my heart, but I think it's more an issue of scale: while EDF:IA certainly paints itself on an impressively large canvas, there's nothing to quite rival GDF's sense of being able to fly to the top of a 400-metre skyscraper, see a carpet of ants below you and launch hundreds of rainbow-coloured death beams into their midst. Not quite, anyway.

So, you can chalk this one down as a glowing review. I'm loving the heck out of Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon. It's kept the core EDF principles intact; the fast-paced relentless action, the swarms of enemies, the interesting weapons (thanks to whichever member of the VC staff suggested homing shotguns) and the sheer sense of fun that comes from playing a tightly-honed videogame. If you're a fan of the EDF series, drop what you're doing and go and buy it right now. No, I don't care that the shops are closed, order off the internet. If you're a newcomer to the series and you want some arcade-style fun, you should pick it up too. If you have anger-management issues, go and buy it; it's a great pick-up-and-play stress reliever. Oh, and did I mention it was released at a budget price? You can pick it up from between £20-25. Honestly, you should only stay away from it if you're an arachnophobe or don't like videogames where you shoot things.

In closing, thanks again to Vicious Cycle for keeping EDF alive in a manner befitting the series, and here's hoping it sells well enough that Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon 2 comes along in the not too distant future, this time with a bigger campaign mode and even more things to shoot at.



In the search for the next big musical hit, record producers travel down some strange avenues. I mean, giving Peter Andre a music career? Really? Still, at least videogames are considered too geeky to be turned into pop music, right?

Oh, bless your youthful naiveté. As with anything that becomes popular, people will always be there to turn it into a song, and videogames are no exception. So, here are some novelty songs that are based on videogames. I must must warn you; almost all of them are depressing, and not for the reasons you might think.

Ambassadors of Funk - Super Mario Land (1992)

I hope you like dance music, because there's going to be a lot of it in this article. It was the early Nineties, a dark time when a Goverment order required 97% of all music released in the UK to fall into the "bangin' party choon" category. I thought I'd try and ease you in gently with this one; it's certainly one of the least objectionable tracks in this list.

At least it tries to integrate the various Super Mario Land samples into the song rather than just slapping them on top, like putting the Batman logo on your Ford Fiesta and calling it the Batmobile. It is, however, a pretty shocking indictment of the corrosive power of videogames on young minds. I mean, even his ma thinks he's crazy. I can see his poor old mother now, crying as the men in white coats bundle her son into a padded cell, her heart breaking as her son screams "you don't understand! I have to rescue the Princess!"
The mastermind behind the Ambassadors of Funk was a record producer named Simon Harris, who has worked with some surprisingly famous artists, and Samantha Fox. I can only imagine he didn't mention Super Mario Land when he got the call to remix Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World".
P.S. I actually owned this on CD as a kid. I listened to it a lot. I know all the words. I can only hope you will not judge me too harshly now that you have this knowledge.

Buckner & Garcia - Pac-Man Fever (1982)

Symptoms of Pac-Man Fever include elevated temperatures, excessive sweating, a desire to eat cherries, paranoid delusions of being chased by ghosts, blood in the urine and eventual death. Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia were a 1980's pop band from Ohio who made the decision to write a song about the most prominent cultural icon of the time: Pac-Man. Then they were forced to make a whole album of videogame-based songs, and their career evaporated. Well, that's the hard life you face in the music industry. Pac-Man Fever was by far their biggest hit, apparently reaching #9 in the US charts.

I'm shocked it didn't chart higher at a time when the world was crying out for generic pop-rock songs with arcade sound effects placed on top. You'll notice that, once again, the song focuses on the negative effects of playing videogames; not only the psychological trauma of Pac-Man addiction, but also the physical damage caused by being hunched over an arcade cabinet. I told you these songs were depressing.

Doctor Spin - Tetris (1992)

More dance music, this time based on the Tetris A music. You know, Tetris is Russian, so I figure what it needs is someone with a Russian accent shouting random phrases during the song. Wait, we have a guy who can do that? Oh, excellent.

It's like a checklist of every terrible cliche of early '90s dance music fused with a beloved videogame tune. Weirdly enough, Doctor Spin was actually a pseudonym used by the duo of producer Andrew Wright and leering wax gargoyle and West End mogul Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Look at that face, and then imagine that he's the person saying "such a good feeling!" in the song. Feel a bit dirty now, don't you? You'll feel even worse when he creeps through your bedroom window while you sleep, wearing nothing but a codpiece shaped like the L-block.
At least it's only a novelty song and it wasn't performed live or anything...

I would like to remind you that the 1990s was the decade when Ecstasy use really took off. If only it was like actual Tetris, then I could push those dancers together and with any luck they'd disappear.

Uncle Vic - Space Invaders (1980)

This is definitely my favourite of the bunch, because it sounds like it's less of a song and more the accidentally-recorded delusions of a madman. Yet again, the focus is on the harmful effect of playing videogames.

If you believe these songs, videogames lie somewhere between cocaine and smack in terms of addictiveness.

H.W.A. - Super Sonic (1992)

Wow, 1992 really was a bumper year for novelty videogame songs. As Sonic was positioned as the "cool" mascot character, I suppose there was very little chance we'd escape without hearing a dance number from him.

It sounds like H.W.A. wrote the song and then went "oh shit, this song's supposed to be about Sonic! Erm, quick, just shove some of the Green Hill Zone music in there. Oh, and the "ring" sound, use that too. Bosh, SuperSonic, done. Where shall we go for lunch?" To be fair, I can't completely dislike a song that uses the Green Hill Zone music, even if the lyrics do sound like "We're on a Super Sonic high, we're gonna mess you up". What, like you messed up every game you were in since Sonic & Knuckles? Ooh, ice burn.
And yes, H.W.A. does stand for "Hedgehog With Attitude". Around the same time, there was another group called H.W.A.; they would be the "Hoes With Attitude", who had an album with the charming title of "Az Much Ass Azz U Want". I can only hope that this lead to an awkward situation where a child bought a Hoes With Attitude album thinking it was going to be about Sonic the Hedgehog.

The World Warrior - Street Fighter II

I've saved the worst for last, folks. Another masterpiece from Simon Harris, it's a rap set to the intro theme from Street Fighter II.

I say "set to", as the rap bears only the loosest of connections to the music. It's just... really, really bad. I can't really describe it in any other way, I'm at a loss for words here. That sample of Chun-Li's laugh mocks me. "I won't quit", he says, even after I've begged him to stop. Somewhere, Yoko Shimomura is crying.
Perhaps it exists to counterbalance all the hours of pleasure I got from Street Fighter II over the years, although now I've heard it I'm worried I'll remember it every time I play SF. I mean, if you're going to rap about Street Fighter, you should at least do it like this (well, that is):

There you go, then - further proof that 1992 was the worst year in human history. The worst thing is, I'm sure you now have at least one of those songs stuck in your head. I can only offer my condolences and pray that it isn't the Street Fighter one.



Back in the mists of time, particularly the 8- and 16-bit eras of videogaming, games were often developed in Japan and then brought over to our Western shores. I'm sure you're all aware of this. I'm sure you're all equally aware that sometimes, these Japanese games were changed to make them more viable in the western market, the most obvious example of this being Doki Doki Panic's transformation from obscure Japanese platformer into the western Super Mario Bros. 2 (although that might not quite be the whole story in that case). One reason for these changes is licensing costs; there's no point paying for the rights to use characters from Magical Anime Girl Fight-chan in a western release if no-one outside Japan has ever heard of her. Sometimes games were changed to give them a feel or a style that the publisher believed would play better in the overseas market, and sometimes it seems that they were changed with the sole aim of removing the Japanese-ness from them - the example that springs to mind is the completely unnecessary caucasian makeover received by the desk clerk during the change from Nobuo Serizawa's Birdie Try to MecaRobot Golf (and you can check that out here).
Today I'll be looking at a game that took a full-force hit from the intercontinental makeover sledgehammer - Ranma 1/2: Chunai Gekitou Hen (Ranma 1/2: Neighbourhood Combat Chapter)...

...which graced western shores as Street Combat.

For those of you who aren't anime fans, Ranma 1/2 is an action/comedy series created by Rumiko Takahashi in 1987. It stars the titular Ranma, a young martial artist who kung-fus his way through many adventures, all while dealing with a strange curse: whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl. As you can probably tell, it's pretty typically Japanese.

In 1992, a company called NCS created Ranma 1/2: CGH. As it's based on a manga full of weirdoes doing kung-fu at each other, you won't be surprised to learn it's a Street Fighter II clone. A pretty terrible Street Fighter II clone, it must be said, with sub-par graphics, a small character roster and no way to play as anyone other than Ranma in the story mode, clunky controls and dreadful, glacially slow gameplay. Definitely one to be avoided, and it would have been no great loss had it never made its way out of Japan. Sadly, this was at the height of Street Fighter II's popularity, so Irem decided that it wanted to ride the wave that Capcom's masterpiece had created and hacked Ranma 1/2: CGH into Street Combat. It ended up being a little strange.

The gameplay is the same between both versions, although Street Combat does seem to run a little slower. All that has really changed are the character sprites and their portraits, but what grand and sweeping changes they are. Let's take a look, starting with Ranma him/herself.

There's boy Ranma at the top and girl Ranma below. Fairly standard martial-arts types, with braided ponytails and qipaos. So, what could Irem change them into for Street Combat? A basic monk-type character? A Ryu clone in a tattered gi?

Nope, what you get is Steve, an armour-clad blonde superhero who looks like a cybernetic Beavis. Girl Ranma is replaced by an armourless variant of Steve, who looks far more generic in his jeans and vest ensemble. Steve, especially when armoured, possesses the strange quality of looking like the Japanese idea of a western comic-book hero (like Sonic Blast Man), which I suppose he is.

Settle down, Cyber-Beavis. Of course, Steve/Ranma has to have some opponents to pummel, and frankly I don't know which set are the strangest.

This is your first opponent in Ranma 1/2, Genma. He's Ranma's dad, and he also suffers from a strange curse; in his case he occasionally turns into a panda. You know, as you do. Still, when you're fighting him he looks normal enough in his karate suit. You could easily just give him a head-swap or a different-coloured outfit...

... Or you could, you know, turn him into a neon-hued version of Tekken's Heihachi. This is Tyrone, and his shades look like they have some dark and distant planet instead of lenses. I'm thankful they block his eyes from my sight, because god knows what horrors lurk beneath that tinted glass.

This is Kodachi, beautiful gymnast and someone who is relatively normal for a Ranma 1/2 character. Her weapons are gymnastic batons, not giant maracas, although that would be no less weird.

Her counterpart is Dozo, world's most serious (and therefore least terrifying) clown. The first time I saw Dozo's profile picture, I actually laughed out loud, so good work on Irem's part there. On a more worrying note, Dozo appears to have a rather pronounced package. In the batch region, I mean. Perhaps he stores his spare clubs in there.

After Dozo, you get to play a minigame where you have to punch a tiny old man as many times as possible within the time limit. The Ranma version sees you attacking Happosai (although his name is given as "Happy" at the top of the screen), a lecherous old pervert whose main goal in life is to steal as much lingerie as possible. In fact, when you hit him knickers and bras fly out of his bag, so in this case at least it's easy to see why he was altered: that sort of thing just didn’t fly outside of Japan back then.

His Street Combat replacement is a dwarf, his design presumably influenced by the name "Happy" and its association with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Well, six dwarfs now. Happy's dead, kids. I punched him off the back of this truck. Yes, as you can see the bonus stage also gets a new background, presumably because the Ranma version features other cast members from the manga sitting in the audience.

Next is Kuno, a master swordsman who hates boy Ranma but is in love with girl Ranma. As you can imagine, all kinds of hilarity ensures, not to mention a rude awakening for Kuno the first time they share a hot shower. So, he fights with a sword - that'll be easy enough to translate into a more western-friendly character. I mean, there are many different kinds of warriors who fight with swords!

However, American G.I.s are not amongst them. This is G.I. Jim. He is a soldier, and he fights with a sword, which if I remember my history correctly is how America managed to single-handedly win the Second World War. Ah, I can see the old film footage now, grainy black-and-white images of men storming Omaha Beach wielding nothing but claymores. Stirring stuff. G.I. Jim has double the oddness factor, because as the background wasn't changed you end up fighting him in some kind of Japanese Zen garden.

Kuno's father, Prinicpal Kuno, is a much more relaxed fellow. He's the High School (of course it has a high school, it's a manga) principal who has an obsession with Hawaii and who fights on a skateboard. His replacement?

A Germanic-looking battle-droid Helmut (please note the subtlety). On a skate hoverboard. If you haven't already given up trying to see the connections between the Ranma 1/2 characters and their Street Combat counterparts, now is the time to do it. These two share zero common ground, apart from the fact you wouldn't want to run into either of them in a dark alley. His stage background is also slightly modified; Principal Kuno's version has various neon lights and fun-time party things in it which have been removed, presumably because death-dealing Nazi cyborgs don't like having a fun time.

This is Shampoo. Her curse? Aside from being named after a hair-care product, she sometimes turns into a cat. Well, someone has to.

At least counterpart is vaguely similar, being a female ninja called Lita. At least, I think she's female: going by her profile portrait, she could easily by a male member of a visual kei band.

And finally there's Ryoga, Ranma's main rival. He turns into a pig, which I gotta say is pretty fucking far down the list of "awesome things to transform into". A shape-shifting master warrior might sound interesting, and in many games it would be. Not in Street Combat, though. Oh no: Irem had much grander plans.

Meet C.J., final boss and aficionado of tight-fitting pink catsuits. I assume he has some sort of connection to Steve, but as Street Combat offers you no story it's down to me to come up with one. Let's see: Steve and C.J. used to work together as a carnival sideshow, acting out battles in their ludicrous costumes for the pennies that the crowds would throw. Then one day C.J. snapped. Unable to contain his jealousy over the crowds apparent preference for Steve (as well as his bitchin' mullet), C.J. broke free of their cage, murdered Steve's parents and escaped into the woods. To this day, C.J. wears the painted skulls of Steve's mother and father on his shoulders. Steve sets out to defeat C.J., fighting the other carnival freaks sent to bring him back along the way, until his fateful duel with C.J. Insert "thunder" sound effect here and wrap it up, because that's the best plot ever.

So there you have it - a crappy beat-em-up with a Ranma 1/2 license becomes a crappy beat-em-up about the biggest group of freaks and weirdoes outside of a Realdoll convention. Honestly, I think the worst change is the ending: in the Ranma version, you get some nice pictures, and a credits sequence where chibi versions of the characters run around in the background.

Street Combat, you get a shot of Steve proclaiming that he's the champion set on a migraine-inducing flashing background, a shot of some dude handing you a trophy, and that's it.

While Ranma 1/2: Chunai Gekitou Hen / Street Combat might be a terrible game, it's certainly a fascinating look at the way the strange "Japanese pretending to be American" prism sometimes worked. And remember: any time you feel like you're getting screwed over by a games company not releasing a game or altering content, just think about how bad it used to be.

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