A while ago, I wrote about Konami's accurately-named 1989 brawler Crime Fighters, a decent enough little slugfest for the time, if a little rough around the edges. What do you mean, that was over a year ago? Ah, I was so young, so naive; I thought the joys of hitting a street punk with a lead pipe would never fade. And I was right, they didn't. Thankfully in 1991 Konami attempted to sate my bloodlust by releasing a sequel called Crime Fighters 2, or as it was known in the West - Vendetta.

What kind of vandal writes "crime" on a wall? Either do your tag, draw some crude genitalia or leave that poor wall alone. Actually, it might be some kind of ironic artistic thing, because graffiti is, like, a crime, man, so this "crime" I wrote is, like, an actual crime. Deep.
The title screen serves its purpose nicely, though: even if you had no idea what Vendetta was about, in the world of 90s videogames graffiti only ever means that you're about to knock a thug's teeth down his throat. And when I say "you", I actually mean the game's protagonists (my noodly arms can barely push an envelope through a letterbox, let alone knock a guy's teeth out). Let's meet them now!

First up is Blood: Cobras member, former boxer, sunglasses aficionado. I'm going to classify him as the leader, purely because he occupies the "1P" slot on the four-player cabinet. Oh, and he's wearing red which automatically makes him the leader - have you never seen Power Rangers?

Second in command is Hulk Hogan, currently running with a street gang under the alias Hawk. He's winking at me. I... I don't like it, it's making me uncomfortable.

Boomer! My good buddy Boomer. He is Martial Arts. He doesn't practise martial arts, he isn't a martial arts teacher - he simply is Martial Arts. Unlike his smirking comrades, at least Boomer is taking this seriously, unless his grimace is down to him being forced to wear the yellow shirt which frankly does nothing for his skin-tone.

Finally there's Sledge, who between his haircut and his designation as an ex-military convict is giving off a strong Mr. T vibe. It seems a little cruel to define him solely by his status as an ex-con. I'm sure he's got other things going on in his life, too. Now I think about it, three of the four characters are listed as ex-somethings. Is the Cobras gang, in actuality, some kind of retirement facility? You guys have got to stop living in the past, move on with you lives... but no time for this motivational speech now, the plot is starting! Would you care to take a guess as to what bold and exciting new direction the story will take?

A chick, specifically Hawk's "protégé" Kate, has been kidnapped by the villainous Mad Gear Dead End Gang. You see, despite the fact that this is Crime Fighters 2 our heroes are part of a (presumably) criminal gang called the Cobras, and the Dead End Gang wants to settle the turf war once and for all by luring the Cobras into a trap. So, it's Crime Fighters in the sense that crime is fighting amongst itself, then?

Has the "kidnap your enemies’ most beloved female" plot ever worked? Kidnapping Mike Haggar's daughter is a dumbass move, but in Vendetta we have two gangs, one of which has a total membership of five. The Dead End gang (approximate membership? I'd say about 5,000) cannot defeat these five people, so they resort to the standard kidnapping plot in the hopes that this will help them defeat these five guys who keep kicking their asses. I can already tell it's not going to end well for the Dead Enders.

Here we are on (where else) the mean streets. Vendetta is unsurprisingly similar to Crime Fighters, which is to say it's a belt-scrolling beat-em-up with a couple of slightly unusual differences. The first thing I always do when I visit a new place for the first time, be it in a videogame or in real life, is perform some kind of jumping attack. While this kind of behaviour might get you kicked out of your local Pizza Hut, (they don't like footprints all over the sneeze guards,) it's damn near essential in most beat-em-ups... except Vendetta, because you can't jump. Nope, the standard attack button / jump button control scheme is replaced with a punch button and a kick button, which means you can't leap around like a demented kangaroo. There is a jumping attack of sorts, performed by pressing both buttons together, but it's more like a long-range attack than anything. Sounds disappointing I know, but the kick button redeems itself once you realise that Vendetta lets you pummel guys while they're on the floor.

Standing over a downed opponent will allow you to unleash a barrage of blows (or in Hawk's case, a very appropriate elbow drop). Sometimes you can even use it to know down enemies who are clinging onto the edge of the stage for dear life, sending them to whatever fatal doom waits below. Probably sharks or something, I dunno.

Other than that, Vendetta is firmly fixed in standard beat-em-up territory. It's somewhat reminiscent of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, what with the health bar represented by vertical lines and the score system being "one bad guy downed = one point". You know, that doesn't seem a very fair system to me. Killing a boss, even the final boss, is worth the same amount of points as kicking an ordinary street punk into the sea? It's just going to lead to arguments, accusations of people not pulling their weight and tensions within the Cobra gang. What are they, Communists? Bosses should be worth ten points, easy.

And speaking of bosses, here's the first freak who was granted a lieutenant's position in the Dead End Gang due to a pituitary condition that made him twice the size of an average street punk. He's called Buzzsaw Bravado, because he gets his bravado from the buzzsaw he carries around. He seems a happy enough guy even though his name does sound like a terrible emo-pop band, so maybe carrying a powertool around everywhere I go will help me overcome my crippling social anxiety. I'd have to change my name to Anglegrinder Assurance or Sandblaster Swagger or something. Deed poll, here I come.
For all his bravado, Buzzsaw isn't that tough - this is mostly because you can brutally kick/punch/elbow drop the everloving shit out of him any time he falls over. This will become a common theme throughout Vendetta, so if you're the kind of sociopath that enjoys that sort of thing then boy are you in for a treat.

That's the formula set for the rest of the game then - no great surprise, but at least Vendetta has been nicely handled. It's certainly a big step up from Crime Fighters, despite only being two years older: the graphics are much, much better, character controls are slick and responsive (aside from their occasional reluctance to perform their jumping attack) and the difficulty level is much more balanced. There's almost none of Crime Fighters' tendency for bosses to catch you in a loop where they hit you over and over, for one thing.

Stage two is a standard industrial area full of chain-wielding punks and overweight luchador-KKK guys who need to stop trying so hard. I know you just want to stand out from all the other jeans-and-a-sleeveless-jacket thugs, man, but this isn't the way to go about it. You look like a WCW wrestler from the nineties. A bad one. Like, Disco Inferno bad.

Joe Ohsugi is the mid-boss, a vision in a black muscle vest and neon pink jeans. He's some kind of ninja, apparently. You might think that's a terrible outfit for someone in his profession, but think of it this way: if you saw someone dressed like that, would you believe they were a ninja? That's old Joe, always thinking. Too much thinking and not enough fighting, actually: as you can see from that picture it's his goons that are the real test.

Stage two's real boss is a rather less cerebral opponent: Missing Link, a feral brawler with a haircut straight out of The Muppets. I should be worried about fighting him, but I'm more concerned with the cryptic "Slime Balls rule OK" graffiti in the background. Are the Slime Balls another gang? Or is it a message of solidarity, one man's tribute to all the slimeballs in all the gangs that make this city such a hive of scum and villainy? I hope it's the latter.

Stage three next, and it's onto a set of slightly nicer-looking streets at twilight. Why, there are even some Rob Halford impersonators wandering around! They seem like friendly enough fellows...

Yep, very friendly. The strangest thing isn't so much that Mr. Leather here is humping you, it's the fact that it causes you damage. What the hell is he packing down there? Please, don't answer that. While my exposure to Japanese notions of homosexuality are limited to say the least (mostly videogames, natch), gay men seem to be depicted as one of three types: muscle-bound body-builders, androgynous pretty boys or leather-clad Hard Gay types like my new buddy here.
Unsurprisingly, these guys were removed from the Western releases...

...but you can still punch a large-breasted, catsuit-wearing dominatrix right in the face, so I guess whoever made the censorship decisions on this one had their priorities in order. Konami must be on a quest to turn you into a misogynist, because beating the dominatrixes gives you a whip, the best weapon in the game.

After a brief battle through a casino you'll reach the bosses of stage three, the nattily-dressed Rude Bros. Their names make a lot of sense, if you think "attempting to stab people to death" falls into the same category as "rude". Under this new system, Macho Man Randy Savage becomes "Mr. Man Randy Uncouth", Jack the Ripper will be renamed "Jack the Brusque" and Vendetta itself will be retitled to Polite Disagreement.
You might have noticed that the smaller Rude looks a lot like the Flea Man enemies from the Castlevania series, and indeed he fights in very similar manner. Like an irritating bouncing twat, I mean. Big Rude is less effective: all he can really do is look on while his much faster and more effective brother does all the work.

A very short stage here, just a brisk walk down by the docks followed by a boss fight with Kruel Kurt the anchor-wielding psychopath. Kruel Kurt is, once again, a terrible name for a boss. He sounds like Garbage Pail Kid. In fact, he looks a bit like Garbage Pail Kid, so I guess that settles that. The best way to beat him is to wait for him to attack and move out of the way - Kurt'll get his anchor stuck in the deck so you can punch him while he tried to work it free.

It's time for the final stage already. Vendetta is not a very long game, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of interesting surprises waiting for me in the final area!

No! Bad dog, get down! You can actually die from being humped to death in this game, you know. It'd make the death certificate more interesting, at least. "Cause of Death: Doberman Cock". I guess the real crime we're fighting here is the crime of not getting your pets spayed or neutered.

This screenshot really shows off my favourite thing about Vendetta: the level of detail. Konami's arcade games of this period are known for their excellent presentation and this is no exception. It's got good music and sound effects, the backgrounds are full of detail and there are a host of small touches that add to the overall flavour of the game. For instance, you can pick up a bucket as a weapon and if you manage to throw it onto an enemy it wedges on their head and they stumble around blindly. Cement bags don't just do damage when thrown, but throw up a cloud of dust that makes the enemies cough, letting you get a free hit in. When a big enemy picks you up, you can hammer attack to kick them in the gut, and sometimes your combos will strike your foe right in the ballsack, complete with a little "ding" sound effect and a special animation of them clutching their ruined gonads. It all adds up to turn Vendetta from a generic brawler to something that's definitely worth playing.

And here's Faust, the final boss and imminent recipient of a flaming barrel to the head. Surprisingly he's not that tough, with nowhere near the levels of bullshit that you find with the later bosses in Crime Fighters. Well, until he's nearly dead, that is: then he grabs a machine gun and fires sprays of bullets that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to avoid. Mostly, I'm in awe of his hair. Look at that mane! No wonder he's the boss.

With some perseverance, Faust will fall and the Cobras rescue Kate and become the undisputed criminal rulers of Dead End City. Now, let's all go home and enjoy a nice...

... wait, what? Yes, much like its prequel Vendetta has an extra stage at the end. It's a simple boss rush, because apparently these clowns didn't learn their lesson first time around.

Oh Kurt, will you never learn? You don't go toe-to-toe with Hulk Hogan, especially when he's got a whip. Once you've pummeled your way through the bosses for a second time, the game is finally over and you can all live in peace and tranquility. Until the inevitable arguments about the unfair scoring system flare up, at least.

All in all then, Vendetta is definitely recommended at least for its charm if not it's wildly innovative gameplay. Good music, nice graphics, a sense of humour and the ability to kick guys in the nuts? How can you go wrong with that? Oh, and a note to Castlevania fans: Listed in the credits under "Sound Design" is one M. Yamane - presumably this is Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane, which would explain why Vendetta sounds good.
So, if you like scrolling brawlers and you haven't played it give Vendetta a go - just, you know, watch out for penises.
The US arcade flyer once again went down the route of using actual human meat-shapes to promote the game.

There's a lot to like about this flyer. Not the girl's mad-eyed, probably narcotically-altered stare, though. That shit'll keep me awake at night. That's not good, but the fact it looks like the gang members all stopped in the middle of battle to pose of for a cheesy family photo certainly is good. I don't know what the deal is with the punk on the left is, though. Menacing or sulty: you decide. No, wait, I have a third option - embarrased. Yeah, I'm going with "embarrased". And lurking in the background is a biker who has made a brief stop before continuing to a bar where Arnold Schwarzenegger will ask his for his clothes, his boots and his motorcycle.
Also, crates. That is all.



Previous remix compliations:
Mega Man - Castlevania - Final Fantasy - F-Zero

Yasunori Mitsuda's score for Chrono Trigger is rightly considered by many (myself included) to be one of the very best videogame soundtracks ever created. It also contains a track called "Burn! Bobonga!", which isn't important but the name just makes me smile. So, Chrono Trigger's soundtrack is great and all, but let's see what happens to it when it falls into the hands of other musically-gifted people: it's time for ten great Chrono Trigger remixes and covers!

Devildom String Orchestra - Chrono Trigger Medley

The previous remix articles I wrote up had something of a heavy metal flavour to them - partly because I'm a long-haired Iron Maiden fan and and partly due to the more rocking nature of ­Mega Man and Castlevania soundtracks. While there'll still be a some hard rockin' tracks here, Chrono Trigger seems to lend itself much more readily to gentle, orchestral reinterpretations like this thing right here: Devildom String Orchestra's four-piece string version of "Wind Scene", "Theme of Frog" and "Battle with Magus". Extremely well done, although I hope you don't have an aversion to slightly creepy animal masks or the Scream movie franchise.

Zircon - Calamitous Judgement

Not only is Chrono Trigger the pinnacle of 16-bit RPGs, is also teaches you lessons about the harsh nature of the justice system. I helped that girl find her cat and everything! Anyway, here's Zircon's energetic, techno-y take on the Trial music, which is possibly a gateway into another dimension where judicial proceedings are held at raves.

5/4 Takepod - World Revolution

If you are fighting a planet-destroying star-beast, you need some suitable dynamic music to accompany the battle. The original "World Revolution" does a good job of supplying this, but master remixer 5/4 Takepod's takes it even further with this powerful rendition.

lonlonjp - At the Bottom of Night (Acoustic Guitar cover)

After that aural assault, let's slow it down with a rendition of the impossibly sad "At the Bottom of Night". There's a lot to be said for the more simple cover versions, and this is just one man and his guitar with some excellent playing that enhances the original fantastically.

kLuTz - 600 A.D. in Piano

Continuing the gentle theme, here's kLuT's solo piano rendition of the 600 A.D. overworld music "Wind Scene". Again, its simplicity allows the fantastic playing to shine through.

Onnochi - Battle With Magus (Metal)

Back to the metal! It has to be heavy, really - what could be more appropriate for a metal cover than a track about fighting a scythe-wielding dark wizard? The only thing that could make it more metal is if Magus was riding a motorcycle while you fought him. Anyway, the reliably excellent Onnochi gives the theme a real sense of drive. Like driving a motorcycle! Haha, you see it all makes sense.

Yasunori Mitsuda, Hiroshi Hata, Hidenobu Ootsuki, and Gizaemon de Furuta - Undersea Palace (The Brink of Time)

The "Brink of Time" arranged album seems to be somewhat divisive amongst Chrono Trigger fans: supposedly "acid jazz" but really too varied to be classified by genre, it's a remix album that goes in some unexpected directions. Personally, I love it - it was the first thing I ever bought on eBay - and this version of "Undersea Palace" is my favourite track. I particularly like the completely unrelated intro section, which may not be from Chrono Trigger but fits the mood perfectly. After that, the bass guitar is the real star of this one, and the horns add that extra bit of punch.

SEXY-SYNTHESIZER - Frog's Theme / Fanfare 1 (Love SQ)

The requisite odd remix here, as SEXY-SYNTHESIZER offer up a chip-tuney, almost Game-and-Watch flavoured take on the theme of everyone's favourite frog/knight hybrid.

Phoenix Project - Boss Battle

I'm a sucker for jazzy organ solos, I admit, but this also offers some nicely crunching guitars that really drive the "boss battle" nature of the song home. Phoenix Project's "Resolution Trigger" doujin album is a great listen all round, really - their version of Frog's Theme is also excellent.

Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra - Chrono Trigger

Finally, something wonderful - from the Orchestral Game Concert series, it's the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra's powerful version of the Chrono Trigger theme. A fittingly grand tribute to a truly grand game, and one that for all my better judgement makes me wish there was a Chrono Trigger movie.

There you are then, ten great Chrono Trigger remixes and covers. As you'd expect from a game with such a stellar soundtrack, this is just the tip of the iceberg so who knows? Maybe there'll be a part two to this article in the future. Until then, I'm going to be learning how to hack roms so I can give Magus a motorcycle.



I'm drinking deep from the well of obscurity with this one, folks: Konami's 1987 arcade title Fast Lane. Have you ever heard of it? No, and until last week I hadn't either, which is odd because I am feted across the globe for my encyclopaedic knowledge of crappy arcade games. Okay, so that's a complete lie, but today's game really is pretty damn obscure.

By 1987 standards, that's a cool-looking title screen. My youthful interest (very youthful, as I would have been three or four years old when this came out) would have been piqued instantly by the sight of an unsuspecting sports car being stalked by a no-doubt murderous monster truck in the midst of an electrical storm. It's like the cover of an 80s slasher movie from a parallel world where cars evolved from men.
So, what are you expecting after seeing that title screen? An OutRun style beat-the-timer racing title? Something along the lines of Spy Hunter, maybe? Oh boy, are you ever going to be disappointed.

It's Pac-Man! Pac-Man with cars, sure, but it's just yet another eat-em-up maze game. You play as a red sports car instead of some ravenous yellow mouth-demon and you eat grass instead of dots, but the basic premise is the same. Pac-Man was only seven years of when Fast Lane was released and the maze-em-up design route was already more heavily travelled than the M1, but I guess Konami thought that all the genre really needed was a lick of paint and a throbbing V8 engine.

As I'm sure you've already figured out, the goal of Fast Lane is to clear each stage of whatever undesirable road surface is present by driving over it, be it grass, bricks or what looks like an electron microscope image of blue velcro. Rather than ghosts, your car must avoid touching the blue monster trucks that patrol each stage. Monster trucks, as I'm sure you're all aware, are the natural enemies of the sports car. On the plains of southern America, you'll often see gangs of monster trucks hiding in the long grass outside petrol stations, just waiting for a tender young Corvette to pull up. In a flash and with a mighty roar, they quickly tear their prey apart with their comically oversized wheels and eat their fill, leaving the carcass to be picked at by the circling motorcycles.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing about Fast Lane if there weren't at least a few interesting things about it (other than it being almost completely forgotten). First off, it takes the standard maze-game control mechanics in some rather odd directions. Most baffling of all is that as you're playing as a car that's hemmed in on both sides by walls or buildings, you can't turn around. Once you're heading down a particular path, you can't reverse or turn around which quickly becomes frustrating once there's more than one monster truck after you.

The only way to get into a different "channel" is to wait for a gap in the wall and sort of drift over there sideways. Your car can clearly turn normally, as it does so automatically whenever you reach a corner, but for some reason you're limited to changing paths in the Fast and the Furious: Konami Drift fashion. Oh, and speaking of fast, one of the buttons makes your car move faster as long as it's held down. The other button? That lets you attack. Attack?


Who's the Monster now, huh? It is me, I am the monster, although my wheels have remained at their standard size. Fast Lane lets you fight back against your big truckin' oppressors by collecting power-ups scattered around the levels. There's a jump, a forward-firing shot, the astonishingly aptly-named "attack" which makes you zoom around being invincible for a bit, an option that travels ahead of you and a screen-clearing flash attack. Like Pac-Man's ghosts the trucks are only destroyed for a short time, although disappointingly they don't float back into the center as a pair of disembodied wheels or anything.

Each time you destroy a truck with your attack, you get a brief cutscene showing your foes exploding in a giant, searing fireball of temporary incapacitation. This is all well and good at first, but no matter how cool they look, after a while it starts becoming a little grating to see the same explosion over and over, especially when it suddenly cuts back to the game and you've forgotten the positions of yours and the enemy’s vehicles.
Another thing to note about the power-ups: yep, there's on called Option and yes, it appears to be based on the Option from Gradius. In fact, the power-up system is almost identical to the one found in Gradius. You can see the familiar power-up bar at the top of the screen: each time you collect a power-up, it moves along just like in Gradius, except not interesting or fun. Does this mean that some of the same development team that created Fast Lane also worked on Konami's seminal space shooter? Possibly, but it's difficult to know for sure for reasons that I'll discuss in a while. It seems likely, though.

More bizarre than the Gradius-inspired weapons system in the manner in which you actually collect the power-ups in the first place. Nothing as simple as "POW" icons for Konami - no, they want you to perform vehicular murder for your rewards.

For some unfathomable reason, girls in leotards occasionally appear on the screen and start running around the stage. These nubile, scantily-clad young ladies frolic about, enticing you to ram your powerful red vehicle right into them. Upon doing so, they giggle, grant you a power-up and then disappear back to whatever whimsical fairy-world they came from. There are deep, deep layers of Freudian weirdness here that I'm not qualified to go into, but I'd just like to reiterate the point that this game rewards you for mowing down defenceless women.

And now for a shocking confession: I didn't actually complete Fast Lane. While it starts of easy enough despite the fact that the monster trucks are just as fast as your sports car, the game quickly becomes too difficult to persevere with. It starts with the addition of a second monster truck, a sentence I never thought I'd utter in a negative way. That's not too bad, but after a while the trucks gain the ability to re-lay the grass/bricks/shattered pieces of your dignity that you had already picked up. Combine this with some treacherous stage layouts and your car's inability to turn around, and you're in for a frustrating time. I personally gave up at stage 17:

You will notice that there's only one way in or out of the middle area, and those two trucks mean new track gets laid more often than the average porn star. So, I gave up. Not because it was ridiculously difficult but because it was boring, or at least nowhere near interesting enough for me to repeatedly suffer through the same level over and over in the vain hope I'd manage to do it before my bones crumbled to dust through the sheer tedium of it. I couldn't quite make it to the ending (presuming there is one) for you all, and for that I can only apologise. In my defence, a quick bout of internet searching reveals that no-one else has either, making this article the definitive English-language summary of Fast Lane. My parent have already contacted me to let me know who proud they are.

When you do finally give up and get a game over, another girl in a leotard appears and rings a test-your-strength bell that marks how far you got. I can't help but feel I'm being mocked, possibly for not running over enough women. I don't know what you want from me, Fast Lane. Why was my car even concerned with changing these road surfaces? I clearly demonstrated that it could drive equally well on grass or tarmac, so why? Was it just to spoil the off-road fun of the monster trucks? Between that and all the hit-and-runs, was I... was I the villain in this game?

I've run out of things to say about Fast Lane already. Wait, I thought of one more - the music's pretty good. Okay, now I'm done. To recap, it's a sub-par Pac-Man clone hampered by the inability to turn around and the enemies that can replace the track. Graphically it's decent enough for the time, although it does occasionally throw levels at you which are decked out in some nauseating colour schemes. The mechanic of running down girls is an odd one - I assume they're supposed to be race queens, albeit ones that have finally snapped after a combination of breathing exhaust fumes and being leered at for years. In all, I think the most interesting thing about Fast Lane are the Gradius-inspired elements. There's a lesson we can all take away from this: Gradius makes everything better.



Brace for impact: here comes a gloriously geeky clash between retro gaming and Star Wars. Yep, it's Star Wars for the NES, but probably not one you've seen before. Rather than JVC / Beam Software's more widely-known (and more widely-released) NES Star Wars game, today I'll be looking at Namco's Japan-only take on moviedom's most fiddled-with saga.

Oh, from such humble beginnings do mighty monuments to weirdness spring. It starts off faithful enough, with an 8-bit version of the John Williams score, the famous text-crawl, and a pretty excellent recreation of the first shots of the movie.

Exciting, isn't it? Of course, this being a Japanese-only title from a Japanese developer things aren't going to stay this sane for long.
The first thing to do is select your difficulty level, either novice or pro. I'll be playing on novice. While I'm sure there're plenty of you out there saying "but VGJUNK, you're a certainly a pro Jedi if ever I saw one," you'll soon come to understand that all the new-age hippy space-magic in the universe won't help you get through pro mode.

Things start off mostly as they do in the movie: R2-D2 vomits out a hologram of Princess Leia, although in this version she's directly addressing Luke and asking him to rescue her kidnapped friends. As we shall see soon enough, by "friends" Leia actually means "all the major characters which, in the movie, you haven't met yet."
Judging by his facial expression, Luke is a little pissed off about having his day interrupted by a demanding princess.

Man, those power converters are never going to get picked up now.
The first stage begins, and the first thing that happens is that R2 gets half-inched by some Jawas, the thieving little pricks.

Luke reacts by doing what any teenage bumpkin who suddenly has access to a laser-sword and magical powers would - by cutting a bloody swathe of destruction across the planet of Tatooine, destroying anything that dares to cross him.

Okay, so "bloody swathe" was exaggerating a little. Still, Tatooine is a dangerous place and there are plenty of critters lying in wait that need to be dispatched with a swing of the trusty lightsaber, like this weird little thing.

I have no idea what that is, but I do know that you either need to avoid it or chop it into neatly-cauterised chunks. As you might have guessed by now, this iteration of Star Wars is a side-scrolling platformer, much in the style of Mega Man. Much, much in that style, to be frank. You've got one button to jump and one button to swing your 'saber, you need to get to the other side of the stage, fight a boss and find your captured friend.

It's a lot more difficult than Mega Man, though. This isn't due to the challenging level design or anything fun like that, but more because Namco decided to let their sadistic tendencies run wild and made Luke such a complete wuss that one hit from anything more hostile that a used hanky will kill him immediately. So, it's like a Mega Man game where all the enemies are covered in spikes and they have spike guns that fire spikes at you while surrounding you with spiked platforms.

Oh, and there are no continues either. And no save game or password feature - apparently saving the galaxy is something you have to do in one sitting. Worst of all, Stormtroopers can actually hit you with their blaster fire. Madness! I guess Luke's Plot Armour is out for dry-cleaning.

At the end of the sandcrawler is the boss and it's... Darth Vader? Already? Well, this could end up being a very short game indeed.

Wait, Scorpian Vader? Whatever, look, are we going to fight or what? I've already started making the vwoom vwoom noises, I can't back out now.

Right, here we go, I've just got to dodge his swings and get an attack in and there, I hit him!

And then Darth Vader, Sith Lord and all-round badass, turns into a giant scorpion. I'll admit, I'm a little lost for words here. Instead of having some kind of Tatooine-themed boss like, I dunno, a big Tusken Raider or Greedo or something, Namco thought it'd be a good idea to make every boss in the game a Vader decoy that turns into something that most assuredly is not Darth Vader. Well, he's still a boss and therefore needs killin', but that's a simple enough task that can be accomplished by hopping over him and chopping at his back.

Once Scorpion Vader is dead, you can free R2 and get off this godforsaken rock.

There's a short landspeeder section first though. Luke continues his Grand Theft Auto-style rampage by ramming his landspeeder into any wildlife or Stormtroopers who get in his way. I've got a Jedi Mind Trick for you - it's called get out of my way or so help me God I will orphan your children.
Once that's over, you have an off-screen meeting with Han Solo and Chewbacca, who graciously grant you control of the Millennium Falcon.

Yes, I know you're Obi-Wan. We met, like, this morning. You gave me a lightsaber, remember? Oh never mind, I'm coming to get you.

Between stages, there's a short section where you control the Millennium Falcon (or the gun turrets, at least) and blast as many TIE fighters as you can while you wait for Chewie to get his goddamn act together and make the jump to hyperspace. The controls are simple: the d-pad moves the reticule and B fires. Occasionally the TIEs will fire at you, and you can either try to avoid the shot or press A to activate your shields. However, your shield only stays active for a second or so, you can only use it three times per stage and yes, you still get destroyed in one hit. I'm beginning to think Luke would have been better off trying to walk to Kessel.

And that's how the rest of the game goes: you land on a planet, fight Fakeo-Vader, rescue your friend and then shoot some TIEs while travelling to the next stage. Next up: the mysterious mountainous planet of Kessel.

"Mountainous" of course equates to "floating platforms". Luke has some decent long-jumping skills, although he is prone to sliding off platforms which again usually results in his instant death. Small wonder the Jedi were almost wiped out, but I managed to redress the balance slightly by finding a Blaster pick-up. It may be more clumsy and random than a lightsaber, but it does mean you don't have to get right up close to the enemies and subject yourself to the whims of the lightsaber's fickle hit detection.

Did I mention that Kessel has an ancient Egyptian theme? Maybe this is some kind of Star Wars / Stargate crossover. Given the vast morass that is the Expanded Universe, this is entirely possible - I believe the Expanded Universe is now so big that all possible Star Wars stories that could be written have been written. It's like Borges' Library of Babel, except with more stories about that time Chewbacca travelled back in time and met the first Ewok or something.

Kessel's boss is Gyaos Vader, some kind of skeleton pterodactyl thing that you have to fight while Tutankhamen looks on dispassionately. Is there a Darth Anubis? No? Well, if there are any SW fanfic writers reading this, there you go: feel free to use the Darth Anubis name. It's my gift to you.

Luke rescues Obi-Wan, and they share a tender embrace. Go on, Obi-Wan - tell Luke about the time you kicked his dad into a volcano. You'll never get a better opportunity than this, surrounded by the calming mystical influence of the pharaohs.

It's C-3PO? Well shit, I thought it was Andre the Giant. Everyone's favourite robot with the soul of a spinster aunt is trapped on the water planet of Iscalon, which sadly means it's time for a tedious underwater stage. It's a tough level, because your momentum means Luke slides through the water like butter down a drainpipe and navigating him through the narrow, spike-encrusted passageways is a nightmare. Sadly, Jedi mind tricks don't seem to work on fish or spikes, so you have to carefully avoid touching anything, anything at all, because otherwise Luke will rupture and spill all his blood and organs into the sea. And before you go thinking that this stage is too normal, you appear to be swimming around the sunken ruins of the Capitol Building.

And the boss? Shark Vader, naturally!

Ironically, Shark Vader is probably the toughest boss in the entire game, and if you've ever taken part in an underwater swordfight with a shark you'll understand why. Jedi are simply not designed to fight underwater... although going back to the Expanded Universe, I'm sure there are Jedi who are designed to fight underwater.

Namco make a vague effort to link the game back to the movie with the next stage, as Luke heads to the Death Star to rescue his sister...

...and it's not-too-shabby a recreation of the Death Star, either. Well, aside from all the spikes. This level is a giant maze of single-screen rooms, most of them filled with spikes, ladders and very difficult jumps. God knows what the Rebellion thought when they first got hold of the Death Star plans and found out it wasn't a giant battle station but an interstellar transport craft for spiked platforms.
Luckily you do have some Jedi powers to help you out of a tight spot. They're powered by those blue crystals that you can see in some of the screenshots, and you select them from the pause menu a la the powers in Mega Man. It's a pretty standard array of techniques that will see you banished to the lowest pits of Hell for practising sorcery: long jumping, invincibility, the ability to shoot Link-style laser beams from your lightsaber, a time stopper, a smart bomb and one that warps you back to an earlier point in the level. The most useful power by far is the levitation, which grants you the power of flight and is almost mandatory at some points in the game. If you weren't limited to collecting 99 force crystals at any one time, I'd suggest saving up for the whole game and then just flying through the final stage.

Boba Fett makes an appearance in the detention zone, or at least I think it's Fett: it's difficult to tell. He doesn't get any fanfare or special introduction, and he dies in one swipe, so maybe it's just a Stormtrooper who wanted to jazz up his armour with a lick of green paint.Yeah, that's it: it's simply a Stormtrooper who wanted to dress up (for whatever reason, no judgement here) as Boba Fett in the privacy of an empty detention cell.

Whaddya mean I'm a little short to be a Stormtrooper?! Look lady, I just killed Boba Fett!
Anyway, Luke rescues Leia, they both turn into blonde-haired little cherubs and their faces begin to merge together like something out of Videodrome. Disturbing. Now get in that garbage compactor, you pair of weirdoes.

Aside from your Jedi powers, you also gain access to each of your friends when you rescue them. Sadly, you can't play as them or anything, and all they're used for is some specific area where you have to summon them or you can't continue. In the trash compactor, for instance, you have to call R2 to open the doors for you. It seems a bit of a wasted opportunity, really - and I never figured out what the hell Han Solo is used for. Banter, perhaps?

The boss is Darth Vader - not in the Gyaos or Scorpion editions but cool original Anakin flavour. He's much easier than Shark Vader, or at least he is once you realise that you have to call Obi-Wan Kenobi during the fight to make your blows have any effect. Obi-Wan naturally advises you to "use the Force", so I did: I used the invincibility power. It doesn't work against Vader. Cheers, Obi-Wan.

Next up, the ice world which is presumably Hoth. Chewie's here, frozen in a block of ice, and after the Death Star's giant maze this stage is something of a relief. I don't know if you slide around on the icy platforms because that happens on every platform. Some jetpack Troopers appear. It's all nice and normal, until you have to tell C-3PO to ask a whale to give you a lift.

If you know six million forms of communication, you're bound to have "whalespeak" in there somewhere, right? It's just next to Welsh, and probably used about as often.

The boss is Wampa Vader, although I'm not sure he's done much to earn his "Vader" title. He's just a Wampa in a cave, kidnapping Wookiees and pretending to be a Sith lord. Sad, really.

"But you'll keep me warm, won't you, Luke?"
The final stage looms close, and Namco again try and force the game to roughly align with the plot of the film by sending you to Yavin to rescue Han Solo and defend the Rebel base from attack. At least that's what he says: Han's probably just been put in the brig for excessive smugness and aggravated flirting.

"And they took my nose, too!"

Yavin is a stage much like the other, except with fiddlier jumping and a section inside a temple. Think of it as the Wily's Castle of Star Wars, especially given this incredibly frustrating section of delicate jumps between dissolving platforms:

You need to get up there to free Han, but Namco decided this was too easy and ramped up the difficulty by making Luke jump half a second after you press the button, leading to many failed jumps where you've tried to press the button right at the edge of the ledge for maximum distance only to see our Jedi hero blithely walking to his death. It's not even like you can try again if you miss, because if you fall, you die. If you want to make it through this game without your heart seizing up through sheer, frustrated rage, you better make damn sure you've saved up enough crystals to levitate up there.

Yeah, what he said. It's the final Darth, the real one this time, and it's the same as the last time you fought him except now he can shoot lasers from his lightsaber. He's still not as difficult as Shark Vader, though. He should be the Emperor's real right hand man, uh, fish - travelling across the cosmos, brutally putting down rebellions with a slap of his salty fin, training a young starfish in the ways of the Sith.
Defeating Vader isn't the end of your quest, though: Luke hops in his X-Wing and attacks the Death Star trench.

This final section mostly plays like an early top-down racing game: you have to get the X-Wing through the trench, avoiding obstacles and shooting TIEs until you reach the exhaust port. Strangely, the TIE lasers don't cause you any damage, which is a good job because if they did this section would be impossible rather than simply very difficult. Not only do you have to dodge enemies and navigate the trench, you also have to pick up icons to increase your time, which is difficult when your X-Wing is moving along at a fair old clip. In a rare moment of clemency, Namco made the firing of the torpedo down the exhaust completely scripted so if you do manage to reach the end of the trench it's goodbye to the Death Star, and hello to the welcoming arms of hundreds of grateful female rebels.

What a peculiar game. Not gameplay-wise, obviously: in that department it's a standard Mega Man-type action platformer, albeit and extremely difficult one with poor jumping controls and wonky lightsaber collision detection. In terms of the setting, Namco must be congratulated for making a game that is clearly identifiable as a Star Wars title and yet takes such wild liberties with the source material. So many unanswered questions! Why does everyone's hair keep changing colour? When did the ancient Egyptians settle on the planet Kessel? Why is Han Solo wearing some kind of strap-on codpiece during the ending?

A metal groin-plate combined with that smug expression is not a good look. Mind you, Chewie doesn't fare much better: he looks like he's wearing a knitted sweater. I think Leia's wary expression sums the whole thing up pretty nicely.

Is Namco's Star Wars a good game? Well, it has its moments. The graphics are nice, the NES versions of the famous musical themes are good and the Jedi powers are well-integrated... but it's just too hard. The difficulty level ruins the game, especially as it makes you do it all in one attempt. If only I was sure that was supposed to be Boba Fett in the Death Star level, that'd probably just about swing it. Oh, and there's no Cantina music, which should be the first thing that goes into any Star Wars game. Essentially, if it didn't have the Star Wars name on it, it'd be a forgotten and very average platformer.
Still - there's always room on this planet for a game where Darth Vader turns into a shark.

Mega Man X Star Wars: Coming soon to a game console near you!

Oh, and I was playing an unofficially translated version by Gil Galad / Honookatana.

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