Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: The Video Game (Arcade)


Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 1991
Developer: SEGA

The Background:
Having achieved success with the creation of the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer, the immortal Stan Lee, was searching for another title to match the success of Marvel’s first family. Inspired by a spider climbing up a wall, influenced by pulp vigilante the Spider, eager to capitalise on the surge in teenage demand for comic books, and working alongside artist Steve Ditko, Lee conceived of Spider-Man and was granted permission to feature the teenage superhero in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. Marvel publisher Martin Goodman was shocked to find that Amazing Fantasy #15 was one of the publication’s highest-selling comics and a solo Spider-Man series soon followed, with Spidey quickly becoming Marvel’s most popular comic book character.

Spidey has been Marvel’s flagship character and has crossed over into numerous other media.

Since then, Spider-Man has seen success in numerous other media; in 1967, he featured in a self-titled animated series, he famously appeared as a guest character on The Electric Company (1971 to 1977) and starred in his own live-action series in 1978, and heavily influenced my childhood through the fantastic Spider-Man cartoon (1994 to 1998) before eventually featuring in a number of live-action films. Furthermore, Spider-Man has also featured in numerous videogames, the first of which was the aggravating Spider-Man (Parker Brothers, 1982) for the Atari 2600. Before debuting in arcades, the majority of Spidey’s videogame efforts were sidescrolling action/platformers but this was the early nineties and button-mashing beat-‘em-ups were all the rage thanks to titles like Double Dragon (Technōs Japan, 1987), Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), and The Simpsons (Konami, 1991) so Spidey’s arcade debut naturally came in the form of a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up.

The Plot:
Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime in New York City, has sent his minions out into the city to retrieve a mystical artefact and only Spider-Man and his allies (Namor, the Sub-Mariner, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and Felicia Hardy/Black Cat) can hope to defeat some of Spidey’s most powerful and iconic villains and oppose the Kingpin’s plans for domination.

Gameplay:
Spider-Man: The Video Game is a fairly standard sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which players can pick from one of four characters (Spider-Man (obviously), Sub-Mariner, Hawkeye, and Black Cat) and make their way from the left side of the screen to the right beating up wave-upon-wave of nameless thugs. The game allows any player to select any character and allows for up to four players to play simultaneously, which is always an appreciated feature of such titles.

Each character is quite sluggish to control, and gameplay is shaken up by some ugly platforming sections.

Upon selecting your character, you’re dropped into the streets of New York and quickly learn that the game is quite limited in terms of the moves available to you. Each character controls in exactly the same way, with a few subtle differences: Spidey and Black Cat can swing from webs/lines to attack enemies (if you can pull off the attack, which kind of requires a very specific combination of jumping and attacking) and each has a slightly different jumping attack (Namor dives fist-first down into enemies, for example) and melee attacks (Black Cat is much more about the fancy kicks than Hawkeye). While you can perform a signature special attack (shooting webs or arrows, for example) at the cost of some health points, each character is just as sluggish and apathetic as the next thanks to a lack of a dash function. However, after beating up a few thugs and taking out a sub-boss, the game suddenly shifts to an entirely different perspective; the camera zooms out and the game becomes more of an action/platformer as your character must scale a vertical and horizontal map taking out more goons as they go. In this zoomed out mode, your characters are no longer able to perform melee attacks and must rely on their projectile attacks: Spidey shoots webs, Hawkeye shoots arrows, Black Cat attacks with a grapple hook, and Namor….shoots lightning…? Spidey and Black Cat can also scale and climb walls to navigate these areas faster and Hawkeye and Namor can hang on to overhead platforms to shoot at enemies but it’s a bit weird that you’re not given full access to each character’s abilities in this mode.

Your health is constantly ticking down an player’s are rated after each stage in place of a traditional scoring system.

Unlike many videogames and beat-‘em-ups, inserting coins not only allows you to continue from death but also boosts your health, which is represented by a series of numbers under your character’s name. Your health numbers also double as a time limit as they’re constantly ticking down and this is quite a unique and clever way to get kids to waste their hard-earned pocket money as, while you can find health (in the form of hearts) strewn around the game’s stages at various points, you’ll quickly be pummelled into submission by the game’s enemies and forced to drop more coins to pump up your health and continue on a little further. Sadly, in a marketplace crowded by fantastic beat-‘em-ups, Spider-Man: The Video game fails to stand out in a lot of ways; you can attack and destroy parts of the environment but there’s not much motivation to do this as there are no weapons to find and use and no items to pick up to increase your score. Your score isn’t even displayed onscreen as you play, for God’s sake, which is really unusual, despite the fact that your progress is rated at the end of each stage. Instead, the game’s primary selling point appears to be exclusively the Spider-Man brand and the odd inclusion of action/platforming sections.

Graphics and Sound:
For the most part, Spider-Man: The Video Game looks serviceable enough; sprites are large and colourful but, like the backgrounds, are a little lacking in variety and detail. None of the playable characters have an idle animation, which lets the game down somewhat, and Spider-Man, especially, just looks bored and depressed as he plods around at a sluggish speed. When the game zooms out for its platforming sections, sprites take on a largely pixelated appearance but the backgrounds become much bigger and more detailed. Stages initially seem quite short as you come up against your first sub-boss in almost no time at all and, after defeating them, you’re tasked with climbing up to the rooftops of New York’s skyscrapers and the stages really open up.

Sound effects are limited but decent, and platforming sections expand the game, with “Latvelia” being the most visually interesting.

As you attack enemies, and are attacked, big comic book-style sound effects appear onscreen (as is pretty standard for comic book beat-‘em-ups) but I found sprites go a bit transparent when they pass over other sprites and graphics (though this could be due to emulation issues rather than a flaw of the title itself). The game does feature some limited voice acting but, despite featuring a female voice (who just loves to cry out “Spider-Man!” every time you insert a coin), no female voice work accompanies Black Cat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the male voice acting is the same for every character and hardly of a high standard and when you realise that Namor and Black Cat’s attacks are accompanied by some really weird sound effects that make them sound like they’re drowning or a robot, respectively. As you might expect, comic book-style cutscenes tell the game’s story; these take the form of still images with some accompanying text (though these don’t change depending on your character and mostly just feature Spidey by himself) and in-game cutscenes with some fitting word balloons. Finally, while the game’s stages are fairly standard (the streets, the rooftops, flying through the skies, construction sites and the like), they don’t really stand out much until you crash-land into the hellscape of “Latvelia” and the game suddenly busts out some decent fire effects. Finally, the game’s music, while interesting and serviceable enough, doesn’t really feel very unique to the Spider-Man brand or compared to other beat-‘em-ups.

Enemies and Bosses:
The majority of the enemies you’ll encounter throughout your journey are literally nameless, faceless goons; weird kabuki-mask-wearing, purple-spandex-clad thugs are the order of the day here but they are soon joined by such cliché beat-‘em-up enemies as martial artists (who can duck your attacks), rotund enemies (who can belly flop you), and robots (which shoot projectiles). Spider-Man: The Video Game honestly doesn’t have much going for it in terms of enemy variety; you’ll fight the same enemies over and over and only encounter some weird and memorable foes with you reach “Latvelia” and encounter some weird ape-like monstrosities.

Most of the game’s bosses are fought multiple times and in different forms.

However, Spider-Man: The Video Game is absolutely loaded with some of Spidey’s most iconic villains; after only a couple of minutes into the first stage, you’ll encounter Mac Gargan/Scorpion and, just as you’re getting into that fight, a massive containment unit opens up and Eddie Brock/Venom emerges. Although Scorpion soon runs off after a few hits, you’ll have to endure a handicap situation for a while as enemies spawn in, Venom teleports around the arena and chokes you with their goo, and Scorpion attacks you relentlessly. Once you whittle down Venom’s health, they use a mysterious artefact to grow to monstrous size and you’ll have to chase them to the rooftops for another encounter. This becomes the basic set-up for the majority of the game’s sub-bosses and bosses; you’ll fight them at one point and then have to give chase and battle them again in a slightly different situation after navigating the game’s zoomed out sections.

You’ll face Spidey’s most iconic foes while swarms of enemies pile in on the action!

You’ll battle Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (who has a nasty tendency to chomp down on your crotch), Flint Marko/Sandman, and Venom in a pretty standard beat-‘em-up format where you’ll be confined to an arena and have to fend off waves of additional enemies. Each boss reappears for a rematch later in the game but the strategy remains largely the same; keep your distance and land attacks while dispatching their support and things only really get hairy when Venom spawns a bunch of symbiote clones to fight alongside them!

The Goblins pose a significant challenge thanks to the game’s odd perspective.

Boss battles are mixed up a bit when you take on Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and Jason Macendale/Hobgoblin; while you’ll battle the Green Goblin on the ground, dodging his weird glowing hand attack, these two bosses stand out by taking to their iconic gliders and rushing at you from the air while tossing pumpkin bombs at you. These can be troublesome encounters as it’s difficult to judge where the Goblins are positioned to land your attacks or to successfully hit them with your jump attacks. Plus, when you battle Hobgoblin, you’re limited to your zoom-out attacks and will have to blast him with your projectiles and destroy large cannons to make things easier.

While Kingpin is a marginal threat, Electro and Doc Ock really get the shaft!

You’ll also do battle with the Kingpin in a standard beat-‘em-up encounter; Kingpin’s attacks are limited to headbutts, swipes, and a shoulder barge, making him little more than an inconvenience than a formidable boss fight even in his second phase. Still, at least he actually gets a proper boss fight; Max Dillon/Electro and perhaps Spidey’s most famous foe, Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus are relegated to mere semi-sub-bosses who randomly appear as you’re navigating the game’s later platform stages and they’re little more than a joke as you can easily damage boost through their attacks and pummel them into submission.

Doctor Doom is the game’s final boss and takes numerous forms.

After defeating the Kingpin, though, Dr. Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom randomly appears to claim the mysterious artefact and reveal himself to be the game’s true big bad. When you reach Doom’s Castle, you’ll have to dodge mines and battle through the game’s previous sub-bosses and bosses to confront Doctor Doom…only to find you’ve battled a Doombot all along! However, when you finally do get your hands on the real Doctor Doom, the fight is still little more than a standard affair once you take out Doom’s nifty floating battle craft: Doom is fast and slippery but doesn’t attack with magical bolts until the final confrontation and even then he’s not much more of a threat than the likes of the Sandman or the Lizard.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, there’s pretty much nothing on offer to spice up your gameplay in Spider-Man: The Video Game. You can’t pick up and use weapons or power-ups and the only thing for you to pick up is hearts to increase your health, making gameplay decidedly more repetitive and monotonous compared to other beat-‘em-ups.

Additional Features:
Again, there’s basically nothing here (as is pretty much the standard for most arcade games). However, the fact that you can select any character to play as and play with up to four players, each who accumulate their own separate score at the end of each stage, does add some replay value (if you have friends to play with, of course…)

The Summary:
Spider-Man: The Video Game is a decent enough beat-‘em-up; it’s bright and colourful and includes all of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains but it doesn’t really offer a whole hell of a lot when it comes to gameplay or variety. Beat-‘em-ups are generally quite monotonous as a rule but they usually compensate for this with kick-ass music, detailed sprites, and some cool weapons and super moves; Spider-Man: The Video Game has none of these attributes, meaning it’s a step behind other arcade titles released at the same time and even ones released years prior. The game’s unique selling point of having action/platforming sections incorporated into the usual beat-‘em-up formula is interesting but its execution is flawed thanks to the graphics taking a hit. Throw in an odd assortment of playable characters (I get why Black Cat is there but why are Namor and Hawkeye here?), some repetitive boss battles, and disappointing use of some of Spidey’s more visually striking foes and you have a gameplay experience that is fun enough (and probably better alongside friends) but hardly worth choosing over the likes of Final Fight or even Double Dragon. Put it this way: X-Men (Konami, 1992) released the very next year and is everything Spider-Man: The Video Game wishes it could be; hell, even Captain America and the Avengers (Data East, 1991) offers more in terms of gameplay variety and character abilities despite being graphically less impressive and that’s really saying something.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you ever play Spider-Man: The Video Game out in the wild? Which character did you pick, or get lumbered with, and which did you think was the best or the worst? What did you think of the game’s unique incorporation of platforming elements and the way it handled Spidey’s villains? Which characters do you think would have been more suitable to play in place of Namor and Hawkeye? Which Spider-Man videogame, or arcade beat-’em-up, is your favourite? Whatever you think, feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to pop back for more Spider-Man content next Wednesday.

Game Corner: Captain America and the Avengers (Arcade)

Released: 1991
Developer: Data East
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
First created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Steve Rogers/Captain America was an icon of the Second World War, embodying America’s obsession with patriotism and pride by taking the fight directly to the Axis Forces. Superhero comics went on a bit of a decline after the war and Captain America wouldn’t return to prominence until 1964, when he was famously revived to join Marvel Comics’ all-star team, the Avengers. Since then, the character has been largely synonymous with Earth’s Mightiest Mortals, often acting as the team’s moral compass and leader. In 1991, both comics and arcades were undergoing something of a renaissance; Marvel published the influential Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991) during this time and sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and The Simpsons (Konami, 1991) were proving popular coin munchers. It is perhaps these factors that led to Data East developing a four-player beat-‘em-up game centred around Marvel’s popular super team, a game that is often forgotten because of genre-defining titles like X-Men (Konami, 1992) and a title I first played on the SEGA Mega Drive in all its inauspicious glory.

The Plot:
Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull has assembled an army of the world’s most dangerous supervillains in order to take over the world using a gigantic, Moon-based laser! Answering the call to action and adventure are Captain America, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and the Vision, collectively known as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, are the only ones capable of putting a stop to the Red Skull’s nefarious plans for world domination! Avengers Assemble!!

Gameplay:
Captain America and the Avengers is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which you, and another player if you have a friend, control one of the four Avengers and mindlessly pummel a bunch of robots, cyborgs, and iconic Marvel bad guys across five different stages (referred to as “Scenes”). No matter which character you choose to play as, the game pretty much plays exactly the same with only some minor aesthetic differences separating the characters.

Each Avenger has their own special attack but, otherwise, controls exactly the same.

Despite this, though, I found Cap the most enjoyable character to play as, with Iron Man a close second. The controls are as simple as you could want: you can beat down your enemies with some simple punches and kicks, charge through them with a dash attack, block by holding down the punch button, and perform two different jumping attacks depending on how high you’re jumping. You can also grab and throw enemies (and objects) and unleash a unique ranged attack by pressing down the attack and jump button simultaneously: Captain America hurls his mighty shield, Iron Man fires his repulsor rays, Hawkeye fires arrows, and Vision fires laser blasts from his forehead. I found there to be a bit of a delay in activating these special attacks, however, which can leave you vulnerable but at least they don’t drain your health.

Wasp and Namor will occasionally lend you a helping hand.

Speaking of which, your health is measured in hundreds; you begin each Scene/life with 100 health but can increase it by grabbed the rarely-seen small blue orbs or the power-ups dropped by other Avengers like Namor the Sub-Mariner and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver. You can also increase your health, all the way up to “Max”, by entering coins to keep you alive and kicking, effectively sacrificing your pocket money and extra lives for more health. Thankfully, emulation means you don’t need to worry about wasting your hard-earned pocket money so you never have to worry about running out of lives or health.

Autoscrolling shooting sections help to add some variety to the gameplay.

Unlike a lot of arcade games, Captain America and the Avengers doesn’t feature a time limit; however, if you stand around idle for too long, an explosion randomly drains your health until you either die or get moving, which is a cruel but unique inclusion. It’s not all mindless right-to-left fighting, either; Scene 2, Scene 3, and Scene 5 feature autoscrolling shooting sections that take place in the skies of a wrecked city, deep underwater, and in the cold vastness of outer space. If you’re playing as Cap or Hawkeye, you’ll get to pilot a Sky-Cycle in the first of these stages, but for the others you’ll throw on some scuba gear and a rudimentary space suit. Either way, you must blast enemies with your ranged attack (which is now just a simple button press), avoiding their projectiles and holding down punch to block. These sections are only short but they held to mix things up a bit and, when it comes to sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, variety is hard to find so it’s appreciated.

Graphics and Sound:
I remember Captain America and the Avengers looking very unimpressive on the Mega Drive, with small sprites in large areas and lacking a lot of the detail and quality of other games of the time. In that regard, the arcade game is better since the sprites are much bigger and more distinct and detailed but you’ll notice that they’re not as large, colourful, or intricate as those seen in games like X-Men, for example.

The game is colourful and varied but not as impressive as others in its genre.

Still, it does a decent enough job; the camera is zoomed out quite far compared to other beat-‘em-ups, though, giving you a much larger battlefield which would be a positive but, while areas can get swamped with enemies and do feature interactive elements (mainly barrels and other objects to throw or explode), they are quite empty and there’s little benefit to exploring or attacking your surroundings. You will find some interesting elements, though, such as enemies bursting out of windows and the background, an Avengers mural, burning cars, wrecked buildings, and both a sprawling city in the background and water rushing beneath you as you fly, with comic book sound effects punctuating the onscreen violence.

Comic book panels and hilariously mistranslated dialogue tell the game’s story.

As you might expect, comic book-like panels and text are used to convey the bulk of the story; each character is given a brief demonstration of their in-game abilities and a biography, which is a nice touch, and the game is peppered with some in-game cutscenes that feature dialogue between the Avengers and their enemies. These are some of the most ludicrous examples of mistranslation ever, which hilarious exchanges such as “Seeeeee my powerrr!”, “Where is the laser?”/“Ask the police!”, “You can’t escape!”/“You will be the one escaping!”, and “Why should it goes well!?” It’s cheesy and ridiculous in a “Welcome to die!!” kind of way that adds some unintentional entertainment value to the game, which also features a suitably heroic soundtrack; you’ll hear the main theme quite a bit, since it kicks in once bosses are close to defeat, and while it’s nothing special it’s very catchy and rousing and gives the game a stirring, stimulating gallant feel.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll battle seemingly endless wave upon wave of robots or cybernetic enemies; the most common of these incessantly shoot at you with lasers, sometimes while jumping, while others carry shields or can grab and hold you with retractable arms. You’ll also battle enemies that hover in jetpacks, bigger, more muscle-bound variants that squeeze the life out of you with a bear hug, and hopping bug-like robots. Underwater, enemies will fire harpoons at you while you try to dodge mines and, in the air, they’ll circle around firing lasers in a simple formation. Most of these are destroyed in just a few hits, and both increase in number and become tougher to defeat as you progress, exploding upon defeat, making me believe them to be cyborgs and mechanical rather than flesh and blood.

In Scene 1, you’ll battle some minor Marvel foes after they rob a bank.

One thing Captain America and the Avengers does really well, though, is its expansive use of Marvel’s rouges gallery; in each Scene, you’ll have to contend with a main boss and a series of sub-bosses, many of whom will be recognisable to fans of the source material (and even the movies, to a degree). In Scene 1, you’ll have to contend with the duo of Arthur Parks/The Living Laser and Ulysses Klaw/Klaw mid-way through the stage as they cover David Cannon/Whirlwind’s escape following a bank robbery. Laser and Klaw are best faced with a partner since they hop around the screen, blasting lasers and projectiles at you, but, like all of the game’s sub-bosses and bosses, can be easily pummelled solo as well. When you do go toe-to-toe with Whirlwind, it’s dead easy to just wail away on him, with his only threat being his ability to transform into a literal whirlwind to dash about the screen and whip up nearby objects to rain them down on you.

After disposing of a Sentinel, you’ll battle the Grim Reaper, though neither the Wizard or the “Mech. Taco” are a threat.

Scene 2 sees you having to relentlessly blast away at a Hydra aircraft on your way to the wrecked city and a confrontation with the gigantic, screen-filling “Giant Robot” (clearly a Sentinel). The Sentinel is a slow, plodding sub-boss who tries to smack you out of the sky, fires lasers, and grabs you in its near-endless supply of robot hands. After blowing it to pieces, you’ll battle through the ruins of the city and into a confrontation with Eric Williams/The Grim Reaper, one of the game’s tougher bosses. Grim Reaper can block your projectile attack with his spinning scythe, rush across the screen with lightning speed to slash and strike you, hover in the air, and fires explosive projectiles as the fight progresses. In Scene 3, you’ll battle Bentley Wittman/The Wizard on the deck of a wrecked battleship; the Wizard favours diving punches, throwing discs, and quick-firing laser bolts but is, otherwise, a minor inconvenience at best. After exploring the depths of the ocean, you’ll encounter a giant mechanical octopus referred to as “Mech. Taco”; this is functionally the same fight as against the Sentinel, requiring you to avoid the Taco’s tentacles, swim beneath its lasers, and simply fire at it relentlessly until it explodes.

Even some of Marvel’s most recognisable villains end up being a bit of a pushover.

After emerging victorious, you’ll battle through a submarine and into a confrontation with the Mandarin; the Mandarin is a bit of a trickster, floating around the arena, rocketing into the air, firing at you with lasers, encasing you in ice, and even duplicating himself for double the threat. The Mandarin can command his duplicate to charge at you, send you flying with his floaty movements, and loves to bash you senseless when he gets up close. Like all the other bosses, though, he might have a lot of flair but he’s got a glass jaw and it’s easy to land a few combos and whittle his health down in seconds. Scene 4 sees you infiltrating the Red Skull’s Moon base, where you’ll have to contend with Cain Marko/Juggernaut (who is, ironically, actually smaller than the game’s bruiser enemies…). Juggy likes to roll around the arena in a ball, land big uppercuts, charge at you with a shoulder barge, and trying to cave your skull in with a big double axehandle smash. Oddly, the most difficult thing about fighting him isn’t his much-vaulted strength but actually his speed, since he cannot be damaged in his ball form and likes to speed around the arena like a whippet. After defeating Juggernaut, you’ll eventually battle Ultron, who fires electrical beams from his face, dashes across the screen in a fireball-like form, fires lasers blasts from his hands, pummels you with punches, and causes lasers to rain down across the arena once his health gets low. It’s not an especially difficult fight but, thanks to Ultron’s array of abilities and speedy, damage-dealing moves, it’s comparable to the ones against the Grim Reaper and the Mandarin in that it can be frustrating navigating through Ultron’s attacks but, once you get some hits in, he goes down as easily as any other boss.

Surprisingly, Crossbones is pretty tough, but the final confrontation with the Red Skull couldn’t be simpler.

Having destroyed the Red Skull’s giant laser in Scene 5, you’ll again battle two sub-bosses at once; in this case, “Control” (who is possibly supposed to be Basil Sandhurst/The Controller). This fight is made more troublesome by the buzzsaws that travel across the grid on the ground but is still easier than the first fight against the Living Laser and Klaw since Control just tries to grab you and land flying kicks. Once they’re dealt with, your penultimate boss is against Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, of all people. Not gonna lie but Crossbones is a bit disappointing as a penultimate boss in terms of his character and stature but he’s no pushover; Crossbones leaps, bounds, and tumbles across the arena leaving a shadow in his wake and raining explosive mines (which home in on you) down around you. He also pulls out a pistol to fire at you from a distance and isn’t afraid to either rush at you with his trusty knife or toss the blade your way in rapid succession. Because of his speed and relentless attacks, Crossbones is no pushover but you can tip the tide in your favour by throwing his explosives back at him. Once you corner the Red Skull (who is seen smoking a cigarette in his introduction idle animation!), you’ll go head-to-head with the Nazi superman in a good, old-fashioned slugfest. If you’re wondering where the cliché elevator stage is, it’s right here in this simple fight that turns out to be a trap! Once you drain the Red Skull’s health, he grows into a massive mechanical form and it’s revealed you’ve been fighting a decoy all along. The real Red Skull watches, safely protected within a glass tube, as you battle the formidable “Mech. Skull”, which boasts such devastating attacks as twin gatling guns, energy bolts, massive melee attacks, rockets, a big slam attack, and can summon whirlwinds to mess you up. Still, it’s a big, largely stationary target so it’s pretty simple to get close to it to avoid the majority of its attacks and just pummel away until it explodes, seemingly taking out the Red Skull with it and destroying the Red Skull’s entire Moon base in the process.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike most sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, there aren’t many power-ups to be found in Captain America and the Avengers. Very rarely, in the autoscrolling stages, you’ll find small blue orbs to restore your health and there are a variety of objects to pick up and throw but there are none of the traditional health power-ups, invincibilities, or melee weapons to be found. At certain, predefined points in a lot of Scenes, another Avenger will make a brief cameo and toss out a big health-restoring power-up, which is a fun inclusion. In the autoscrolling sections, you can also pick up a “W” icon and gain the help of Janet van Dyne/Wasp, who encircles your character and can be shot forwards to deal additional damage for a limited time. It’s a shame that more of the other non-playable Avengers don’t aid you in the same way (though Namor does provide some brief assistance in Scene 3).

Additional Features:
It’s an old arcade beat-‘em-up so, of course, there’s really nothing else on offer here except for obtaining or beating the high score or playing alongside a friend. Apparently, some versions of the arcade cabinet supported four-player co-op, which seems like a missed opportunity, but I do know that the consoles versions included different difficulty settings and a “Training” mode that allows you to pit each playable character against each other in a pale imitation of games like Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991).

The Summary:
If you’re looking for a classic, sidescrolling arcade beat-‘em-up, you can do a lot better than Captain America and the Avengers. It’s a decent way to waste about half an hour or so and is big, colourful, mindless fun but there are far better arcade beat-‘em-ups out there, whether carrying the Marvel license or not. The game is fun with a second player and for the completely off-the-wall voice acting and dialogue but it’s very empty and basic, even for an early-nineties beat-‘em-up title. I will say, though, having previously owned the Mega Drive version, that the arcade version of the game is the superior of the two so I would recommend playing this version over any of the others…and then jump back into X-Men right after.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Captain America and the Avengers? If so, which version did you play and which do you feel was the superior iteration? Which of the four Avengers was your go-to character and which of the unplayable Avengers would you have liked to see made playable characters? What did you think to the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses and cheesy, terribly translated dialogue? Have you got a favourite arcade beat-‘em-up or Marvel videogame; if so, what is it? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts so drop a comment below.

Game Corner: The Punisher (Arcade)

Released: 1993
Developer: Capcom
Also Available For: Mega Drive

The Background:
Frank Castle, Marvel’s resident one-man army, first debuted in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Though originally depicted as an assassin with a specific code of honour, the character went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes; thanks to his tragic backstory and unwavering commitment to the permanent eradication of crime, a mission that he fully admits is a never-ending battle that will (and has) result in his death, the Punisher has subsequently seen some success outside of his comic book origins.

Essentially Final Fight with a Punisher reskin, The Punisher is a classic arcade beat-’em-up.

Although far from the first videogame to feature the character in a starring role, the arcade version of The Punisher stands a cut above its predecessors thanks to being developed by Capcom and heavily borrowing from classic arcade beat-‘em-ups like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and Captain Commando (ibid, 1991). Directed by Noritaka Funamizu, who would go on to be heavily involved in the Street Fighter series (ibid/Various, 1987 to present) The Punisher is notable not only for its classic arcade-style action but also for being the first title in a long and successful partnership between Marvel Comics and Capcom.

The Plot:
After his family is gunned down by mobsters in Central Park, Frank Castle swears revenge and begins a one-man war on crime as the Punisher. Joining forces with Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.) agent Nick Fury, Frank enacts bloody vengeance on New York’s criminal element, leading to an inevitable clash with the Kingpin of Crime himself, Wilson Fisk!

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Final Fight or any one of a slew of sidescrolling, 2D beat-‘em-ups, then you know exactly what The Punisher is all about. If you’re player one, you control the titular Punisher while player two controls Fury but, in either case, you’re tasked with making your way from the left side of the screen to the right through six action-packed stages filled with a variety of mobsters and other scumbags for you to beat the shit out of.

There’s not much to distinguish the Punisher and Nick Fury beyond cosmetic differences.

The differences between the two characters are aesthetic, at best; both are capable of punching, jumping, and jump-kicking enemies, grabbing and throwing them when they’re up close, and utilising a slew of weapons to cut down their foes. Pressing punch and jump at the same time will see the two unleash a super move to deal massive damage at the cost of some health and the two are also capable of performing an impressive roll to cover large distances quickly and dash into enemies. The only real difference I noticed between the two is that Fury feels a little faster to control but, whichever character you pick, you’ll be more than capable of taking out anyone that stands in your way.

Of course you can start shooting scumbags full of holes…when the game lets you…

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Punisher if you didn’t get to shoot some fools and, whenever armed enemies pop up on screen, your character will pull out their pistol and the mayhem will begin. A targeting reticule appears and automatically targets the enemy closest to you and, as you have unlimited ammo, all you have to do is press attack to riddle your victim full of bullets. This comes in handy during encounters with the game’s tougher enemies and in boss battles but can be a little unreliable as a dependable ranged attack as you can’t safely camp out of range and take shots at your enemies since your bullets only travel so far.

Grab as many points as you can and rosted meat dinners for health.

Luckily, there are other weapons available to make up for that. Being an arcade game, one of the many objectives you’ll also have is wrecking the game’s large and detailed environments to find bags of cash, gold bars, weapons, and items to not only increase your score, increase your chances at dishing out punishment, but also to restore your health. All the standard goodies are on offer here, from roasted meat dinners to pizza to pudding, and I recommend grabbing them as soon as possible to keep your health bar topped up. As if the swarms of enemies and large, formidable bosses weren’t enough, you’re also battling against a time limit so it pays to make quick work of your enemies wherever possible. Luckily, you can pick up and throw a variety of objects at your enemies (from arcade machines to barrels), toss them off moving stages, and set up explosive traps to clear them away. Some enemy and boss attacks also seem to damage other enemies, which is helpful if you can set things up in the right way to take advantage of this feature.

Go head to head in the game’s bonus stages to rack up those points!

Every now and then you’ll also be taken to a bonus stage to mix things up a bit and earn yourself some extra points; here, the Punisher and Fury are pitted against each other to see who can shoot the most barrels under a time limit. At the end of every stage, you’ll also receive a detailed score tally that awards bonus points for how many items you used and your remaining vitality and grenades. Of course, it’s an inevitability that you’ll probably lose all of your lives and be taken to a continue screen where Microchip and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attempt to revive your character; input another coin, though, and you’ll helpfully be dropped right back into the action where you fell to continue on.

Graphics and Sound:
The Punisher is a gorgeous example of classic arcade, beat-‘em-up action. Sprites are large and detailed and, while the Punisher and Fury don’t have idle animations, they do breathe heavily when you leave them standing and Fury is constantly smoking on a cigar, which is a nice touch. Additionally, some enemies will stop and mock you with laughter and there is an incredible amount of detail applied to the game’s sprites to emulate the look of the comic books as closely as possible.

Cutscenes move the game’s simple plot along at a brisk pace.

While the game’s music is nothing to shout about (and there are some laughably distorted and grainy voice samples to be heard throughout the game), the sound effects carry a decent amount of kick to them. You’ll also be treated to a few pretty decent cutscenes; still images and text relate the game’s story in the opening, in-game graphics and dialogue (which changes depending on which character you’re playing as) feature as transitions between stages, and large, comic book sound effects pop up onscreen as you attack enemies for extra emphasis.

Stages are full of destructible elements and little quirks to bring them to life.

Stages are pretty standard fare (you’ll fight out in the streets, in a sewer, and, of course, on a moving elevator) but quite large and detailed and full of interesting little touches; there are numerous destructible elements to every stage and all sorts of little things to see in the background to bring some life to the stages, like harmless rats running around in the sewers and a dog tied up on the streets. The game also features a decent amount of blood effects, too (fitting considering the carnage onscreen and the violent nature of the Punisher) but this is taken to the next level when you find you can attack and destroy mobster’s cars, leaving a chargrilled skeleton behind!

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll be punching or gunning down a slew of generic street thugs and mobsters; these guys will attack with punches, grab and hold you, or carry melee weapons which you can retrieve after defeating them. While many enemies can swarm the screen at any one time, you’ll generally not have much of a problem against the usual cannon fodder as you’re more than capable of grabbing them or hurling them into one another.

Mobsters, ninjas, cybrogs, The Punisher has it all!

Very quickly, though, you’ll come up against armed mobsters who can attack from a distance. You’ll also encounter sword-wielding ninjas who teleport all over the place, fly into a whirlwind of blades, send you crashing down to the ground from the top of the screen, and can even deflect your bullets back at you! Faster martial artists can also pose a greater threat but perhaps the game’s most troublesome enemies are the Pretty Boys, cyborgs who can take a licking and keep on ticking, attacking with extendable arms, explosive heads, and continue to be a threat even with their torsos blown off.

Do battle with some of the Punisher’s most recognisable enemies.

Bosses feature a few names that will be familiar to fans of the Punisher; you’ll encounter Bonebreaker (little more than a cannon-wielding, Mohawked punk fused with a tank), Bushwaker (who can transform his limbs into devastating armaments), and even Jigsaw (though, sadly, he’s more of a mini boss and isn’t too indistinguishable from other machine gun-toting enemies).

Bosses are accompanied by swarms of enemies to keep the action fast-paced and frantic!

You’ll also encounter the Kingpin’s laser-spewing Guardroid on a couple of occasions and have to deal with large, but low level, mooks in the game’s early stages. Each boss battle comes with wave-upon-wave of the game’s regular enemies to help whittle down your health and drag the battle out, though you can often find weapons and health-restoring items in the boss arenas and invariably also have access to your gun to help tip the odds in your favour.

Dodge the Kingpin’s dangerous attacks to topple to rotund mastermind!

Once you reach the Kingpin’s hotel, though, you’ll come face to face with the Kingpin himself. Rendered as a humongous sprite, the Kingpin takes up a good chunk of the screen with his sheer mass and deals devastating damage with just a swipe of his hand to say nothing of his laser-firing cane and…fire breath (…?)….all of which take away a massive chunk of your health. Kingpin is also swarmed with constantly-respawning enemies to distract you and he can hurl you clear across the screen if you get too close but, luckily, he takes damage just like any other boss or enemy and doesn’t appear to have any cheap invincibility frames so you’ll soon be leaving him to crumble alongside his hotel with enough patience and pocket change.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are no invincibility or speed/power-ups to be found in The Punisher; instead, you’ll find a variety of different foods to eat to restore your health or gain access to a slew of additional weaponry to exact justice on New York’s criminal scum.

A slew of weapons are at your disposal.

You’ll be wielding the standard beat-‘em-up fare like knives, baseball bats, axes, hammers and pipes but you’ll also get to use throwing stars, boomerangs, M-16 assault rifles, Uzis, fire extinguishers, and even a flamethrower. Every time you pick up a weapon, the amount of uses it has is displayed next to it on the lower left of the screen so you always know how much “ammo” you have left; if you’re running low, you can toss the weapon in a diagonal arc by jumping and pressing attack, leaving you free to switch to a fresh weapon.

Wipe out enemies with a super move or your grenades.

The Punisher and Fury can also pick up grenades as they progress through the game’s stages; these are also tallied in the bottom left and are best saved for bosses or to clear the screen of enemies. By jumping and pressing jump and attack, you’ll toss a grenade downwards, which explodes to deal massive damage and help to thin out the herd.

Additional Features:
Being a coin-operated, arcade beat-‘em-up, the sole thing to play for is that coveted high score. Aside from that, the game allows for two player simultaneous play, which slightly alters the game’s cutscenes and dialogue and gives you another good reason to play through it.

The Summary:
As far as arcade beat-‘em-ups go, The Punisher is just as iconic and enjoyable as the likes of Final Fight. It doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the genre, or anything you haven’t seen before if you’ve played any of the many beat-‘em-ups released by the likes of Capcom and Konami back in the day, but it shines a little bit thanks to its unique licensing of the Punisher character. With large, detailed, comic book-like sprites, environments that are full of destructible elements and fun little inclusions, and by fully embracing the larger than life aesthetic and hyper violence of its source material and title character, The Punisher is a great way to spend an hour or so. Fast-paced and action-packed, the game is a joy to play through; the music isn’t very memorable and, while the game is quite short at only six stages, it’s well-paced and well-balanced enough that it never begins as tedious and monotonous as some beat-‘em-ups.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play The Punisher out in the wild? Perhaps you are lucky enough to own the Mega Drive port of the game; if so, how do you think it holds up compared to the arcade original? Which character did you prefer to play as? Can you think of a better character to partner up with the Punisher or do you think Nick Fury fit the role nicely enough? What is your favourite beat-‘em-up game? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

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Released: 1989
Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad, Atari, Commodore 64, GameCube, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and ZX Spectrum

The Background:
If you were a kid in the eighties or nineties, you were probably really into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; if, like me, you lived in the United Kingdom, you were probably just as enthusiastic as the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles but, either way, before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series.

TMNTAMerch
The turtles were a merchandising machine and even thrived in arcades at the time.

A toned down version of the original Mirage Comics characters, Ninja Turtles was incredibly popular, spawning not just three live-action movies (of varying quality), comic books, and a fantastic line of action figures but also a whole host of videogames, without perhaps none being more popular than the Ninja Turtles arcade game. Developed by Konami at a time when arcades were full of amazing side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups, Ninja Turtles may not have been the first videogame based on the franchise but it definitely defined the genre that would prove most popular for subsequent videogame releases, particularly in the arcade.

The Plot:
The Turtles’ arch-nemesis, the Shredder, has kidnapped their friend April O’Neil and their mentor and father figure, Splinter, and swamped the streets with his Foot Soldiers and other minions. Understandably unimpressed, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo waste no time in grabbing their weapons and giving chase in a rescue mission.

Gameplay:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; some arcade cabinets were apparently set up to accommodate just two, and to allow any player to select any character but, generally, cabinets were set up specifically for four players to play simultaneously. Each of the four Ninja Turtles is selectable and has specific strengths and weaknesses: Leonardo is the most well-rounded, Donatello is slower but has a longer reach, and both Raphael and Michelangelo have fast attacks but are limited in their range.

TMNTACombat
The turtles each fight with their signature weapons.

Each of the turtles can perform a flying kick and a super attack by pressing the jump and attack buttons at the same time which, unlike other sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups of the time, doesn’t appear to drain your health. In addition, they can hurl their enemies around for extra damage but there’s no forward dash and very little in the way of intricate combos on offer here; it’s a simple, pure “go right and mash the attack button” beat-‘em-up, with the exception of one level, where the TMNT race around the streets on rocket-powered skateboards.

TMNTAInteraction
Use the environment to wipe out groups of enemies.

While levels and environments are noticeably sparse, there are a few intractable elements that both benefit and hinder your gameplay; traffic cones and street signs can be hit to damage enemies, you can smash fire hydrants to push enemies away, or blow up groups of them with explosive barrels. At the same time, though, enemies can drop on you from behind signs or pop up from sewer holes and throw manhole covers at you; there’s also some spiked walls and electrical hazards that can be difficult to dodge without a dash or roll manoeuvre.

TMNTADeaths
You’ll have to watch out for some deadly hazards as you go.

The search for their friends and family takes the TMNT from the streets and sewers of New York City to the Technodrome itself; along the way, they battle various versions of Shredder’s Foot Clan and some other familiar faces, such as Bebop and Rocksteady. If you’re really, really lucky, you can pick up a pizza box to restore your turtle’s health but these are few and far between, so you’ll either need a lot of money to replay after losing a life or, better yet, make use of the infinite credits available in the game’s various ports or ROMs.

Graphics and Sound:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is presented in the finest 2D graphics of the time; the four turtles and their enemies are large, bright, and well-animated; each wields their signature weapons and looks ripped right out of the animated series. Environments aren’t incredibly inspiring, however; the streets of New York are surprisingly bland and there’s not much going on in most of the levels. Rats will run by in the sewers, enemies will jump out from behind buildings or burst out from walls, and there are some layers to some levels that allow you to fight on higher ground but, mostly, the environments are quite bland and lacking much of the character and interaction of later TMNT games (with the exception of April’s apartment, which features some impressive fire effects, and the final Technodrome level).

TMNTAFeatures
Speech bubbles and cartoony effects add to the game’s charm.

There are some fun elements to be found here, though; the TMNT can fall down open manholes and hide from enemy attacks while peeping at the player, when electrocuted you can see their skeleton, and when caught in Granitor’s flame burst, they’ll appear charred and damaged. When grabbed by enemies or battling certain bosses, little speech bubbles will also pop up, which is quite a fun inclusion. Accompanying these are sound bites, with the TMNT exchanging quips and taunts with certain bosses or rallying each other with a cry of “Cowabunga!” You’ll always know when you’ve picked up health thanks to their triumphant shout of “Pizza time!” and, alongside these, levels are generally filled with some up-beat, catchy tunes that work well with the constant combat and the game also includes an impressive rendition of the cartoon’s iconic theme song.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, the TMNT will be butting heads with various members of the Foot Clan; these come in all different colours and variants, with the regular, easily-dispatched foes wearing the common purple and the tougher, weapon-wielding goons coming in red, silver, or yellow colourings. These foes will toss shurikens at the turtles, stab at them with spears, or try to flatten them with comically large mallets, among other weapons. They can also throw manhole covers, dynamite, or massive tyres at the turtles and, later in the game, zap them with laser blasters.

TMNTABosses
You’ll battle all the TMNT’s familiar foes.

You’ll also battle robotic enemies, such as the Mousers (who will clamp onto your arm and drain your health) and Roadkill Rodneys, which race around the screen, whipping at you, and trapping you in an electrically-charged grip. As for bosses, the TMNT will content with classic enemies such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman. You’ll first battle Bebop and Rocksteady individually, but they later come together to try and crush the turtles; each wields a projectile weapon (Bebop a machine gun, Rocksteady a laser pistol) and can attack with powerful physical attacks, like charging or punching. Baxter, however, will attack from the air, dropping Mousers on you, while Granitor and General Traag are much tougher thanks to their rock-like hides.

TMNTAKrang
Krang packs a punch but loves a good gloat.

After fighting through the Technodrome, you’ll be attacked by Krang inside his robot body; Krang’s a bit of a classic arcade spam-artist, as he’ll kick you, and zap you with lasers while you’re down to drain your health in no time. Krang is also quite the showboat, however, and he’ll pause to gloat about being invincible long enough for you to land a few decent hits.

TMNTAShredder
Shredder has a devestating one-hit kill move.

After defeating Krang, you’ll immediately battle the Shredder. Oddly, Shredder attacks alongside shadow duplicates, effectively increasing his attack power and his threat; Shredder swipes at you with his katana but also unleashes a powerful energy blast that regresses your hero back to a regular turtle and is, essentially, a one-hit kill move. As you battle Shredder, he’ll lose his helmet, which is a nice touch, but there’s not a lot of real strategy to any of the boss battles beyond simply avoiding attacks and striking as fast and as often as possible. One downside to this game is that the bosses don’t have an energy meter, so the only way you know you’re doing any damage or getting anywhere is by noticing when the boss sprites start flashing.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, for a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, there’s very few power-ups on offer here. The only item you can pick up is the health-restoring pizza and you can’t grab other weapons or gain any temporary buffs or bonuses, though it does seem as though this was originally planned for the game before the option was removed during development.

Additional Features:
Unsurprisingly, there are none; the only options available to you are to enjoy this game with a friend, preferably three other friends in order to get the most out of the game’s cutscenes and content.

TMNTAConclusion

The Summary:
Compared to other games of its era and genre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is surprisingly light on features and content; there’s the most basic levels of combat and content on offer here, which probably puts it below other games of this type, which offer additional power-ups or combat mechanics. Yet, it’s the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game! Other TMNT games may have perfected the formula but there’s a charming appeal to the original. The classic 2D graphics, the simple beat-‘em-up gameplay, and the catchy, iconic music all make it feel as though you’re playing an episode of the animated series and really evoke the spirit of the influential cartoon. It might be a case of nostalgia goggles forgiving some of the game’s shortcomings but, for a straightforward TMNT adventure, it’s hard to deny that this game is simple, evocative fun through and through.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever get to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out in the wild? Or did you, perhaps, play the port that came to the NES, or that was briefly on Xbox Live? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts on the Ninja Turtles, leave them in a comment below.

Game Corner [Bite-Size]: SEGASonic the Hedgehog (Arcade)

GameCornerBite-Size
SEGASonicLogo

Released: 1993
Developer: SEGA AM3

A Brief Background:
I may have mentioned this before but, back in the early-nineties, SEGA’s super-speedy blue hedgehog of a mascot was on something of a roll; Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) had finally swayed videogame fans away from the Nintendo Entertainment System then, after the unforgettable and highly marketed release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic’s status as a cultural icon was cemented.

SEGASonicWorld
I briefly played SEGASonic at SEGA World.

It was amidst the wave of Sonic’s incredible popularity that SEGA decided to develop a Sonic title for the arcades, most likely as the arcade scene was still a popular way of enjoying videogames even with the Console War right on the horizon. Although it wasn’t the first time SEGA tried to get a Sonic arcade game off the ground, SEGASonic the Hedgehog is, perhaps, the most infamous. Featuring the debut of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel (two characters that were long-forgotten by SEGA until very recently) and forgoing Sonic’s trademark speed, SEGASonic used a trackball to control its three playable characters and was pretty much exclusively released in Japan. I actually got to play the game at SEGA World in London years and years ago, back when that was a thing, but the game has never been officially released or ported to other consoles since quietly disappearing from the arcade scene.

First Impressions:
SEGASonic makes an immediate impression simply through its bright, colourful graphics; the game features a charming cartoon-like aesthetic, featuring some extremely expressive and amusing animations and facial expressions from Sonic and his two friends.

SEGASonicChase
Sonic, Mighty, and Ray must escape Eggman’s island.

Captured by Doctor Eggman and forced to escape from his hazardous island, players are tasked with battling the game’s awkward trackball controls and navigating seven isometric levels. Generally, players are chased by some kind of hazard (a wall of fire or a drilling machine, for example), must dodge past some kind of blockage (a cage, crumbling paths, or spiked walls and the like), and clamber across monkey bars to escape danger.

SEGASonicVariety
There’s not much difference between Sonic, Mighty, or Ray.

Sonic, Mighty, and Ray all pretty much control exactly the same; no one character is faster than the other, they all have a Spin Attack, and the only real difference between them is the way they animate when performing certain actions (Ray uses his prehensile tail to climb, for example). Each character has a health bar, in a change for the series, which can be refilled by collecting the familiar Golden Rings generously scattered across the game’s maps, all while being chased by Doctor Eggman.

My Progression:
Unfortunately, as SEGASonic hasn’t been re-released or ported to home consoles, the only way to play the game now is using a ROM and an emulator. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the ROM I have for this game is very finicky and prone to crashing; as a result, I didn’t manage to get too far in the game before the emulator crashed and kicked me out of the game.

SEGASonicBoss
My ROM crashed shortly after this boss.

I’m pretty certain that I managed to clear at least one level when I played the game at SEGA World but, on this playthrough, my ROM conked out on me shortly after clearing Trap Tower. I probably will reload my save state and go back to the game at some point to try and get a bit more playtime out of it but, as much as I love the obscurity and visual presentation of the game, the controls make it quite difficult to play (or, at least, play well).

BiteSizeGamesContinue

I love SEGASonic the Hedgehog; I would be so happy is SEGA got off their asses and made a real effort to put together a real, HD-quality port of the title that integrates modern analogue controls in place of the trackball. It, like Knuckles’ Chaotix (SEGA, 1995), is criminally under-rated, under-looked, and under-valued for its appeal and, considering SEGA loves to port and re-release their classic titles, it literally boggles my mind that we haven’t seen anything from this game in decades. The only thing holding it back from a full-blown replay is the dodgy controls (well, that and that unreliability of the ROM I have…); even when using a trackball, the game is difficult to control but, with analogue controls better and more sensitive than ever, I could see this game being a nice distracting for an hour or so if SEGA were to spruce it up and re-release it.

What do you think of SEGASonic the Hedgehog? What was your favourite of Sonic’s short-lived arcade games? Did you ever go to SEGA World in London? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Game Corner: Alien vs. Predator (Arcade)

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AVPLogo

As always, I am opening this review by asking you to cast your minds back to the 1990s. This time, we’re specifically winding the clock back to 1994, a time when Xenomorphs had been off cinema screens since Alien3 (Fincher, 1992) and we hadn’t seen a Predator onscreen since Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990). Both franchises were in a state of flux not entirely unlike where they are now; these latter sequels had resulted in divisive audience reactions, to say the least, and 20th Century Fox had made the genius decision to allow Dark Horse Comics to mash their two science-fiction/action/horror franchise together into a series of comic books, action figures, novels, and other media. Basically every type of media that wasn’t onscreen. This was also a time when the arcade was still going strong; sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups were staples in arcades everywhere thanks to titles like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), The Punisher (Capcom, 1993), The Simpsons (Konami, 1991), and X-Men (ibid, 1992) and violent videogames were suddenly massively popular thanks to the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992). This was also around the time when adult films like Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987) were being turned into comic books, action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Mash all of these factors together and you get the topic of today’s discussion: Alien vs. Predator (Capcom, 1994).

The story is simple but effective.

Far from the disappointingly neutered down mess we got in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004), the arcade game of the same (well…similar) name is a straight-up combination of the balls-to-the-wall action embodied by the Colonial Marines and the Xenomorphs in Aliens and the brutal efficiency of the Predators. Rather than lumbering the story in the present day, Alien vs. Predator takes place in a far more futuristic setting more befitting the Alien (Various, 1979 to present) franchise, immediately making it look and feel like an actual entry in the franchise rather than a toned down cash grab. It is in this setting that the game shows a whole horde of Xenomorphs descending onto Earth and ravage the city of San Drad; although the cybernetic soldiers Major Dutch Schaefer (fittingly with the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Lieutenant Linn Kurosawa try to fight them off, they are quickly overwhelmed but, surprisingly, saved by a group of Predators. The Predators, seeking to curb the infestation of their prey, ally themselves with the humans and the four set out to eradicate the Xenomorph swarm. If you think the idea of the Predators conversing (in English) with the humans is madness, it might also blow your mind to know that this plot was, apparently, based on an early draft for a potential Alien vs. Predator movie…let that settle in for a second.

AVPGameplay
Just keep killing aliens until the stage ends!

If you’ve played any sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-up, you’ve played Alien vs. Predator; you select a character and battle from the left of the screen to the right, bashing enemies with simple combos, grapples, and a variety of weapons until you defeat a massive boss and clear the game’s seven stages. Up to four players can play simultaneously and each character has certain strengths and weaknesses over the others; the Predator Warrior is quite well-balanced, for example, while Dutch is a slow powerhouse. As you traverse each stage, you can pick up a variety of items and power ups; some, like gems and jewels, exist only to add to your high score while others, like pizza, soda, and chicken, replenish your health. You can grab pipes to bash in Xenomorph heads, grenades to blast them apart, and even the iconic Smart and Pulse Guns from Aliens to mow their numbers down.

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This image will never get old

Each character also has their own weaponry and special attacks; the two Predators start with unique alien bladed weapons to increase their range while the two humans boast better range through their firepower. You can even use the Predator’s plasma cannon; while it is prone to overheating through repeated use, the “Super” power-up allows repeated use to decimate entire screens of enemies. At the cost of some health, you can also perform powerful special attacks, as is the norm for sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups. Each stage is swarming with enemies, to the point where it’s genuinely tough to find your character much less plough through your opponents. Luckily, if you’re playing this on Mame or other arcade emulators, you can continue with as many lives and chances as you like until you clear each stage. To break up the monotony of the button-mashing and fighting, you’ll mount an M577 vehicle and blast away endless hordes of Xenomorphs and be tasked with destroying various objects under a time limit.

AVPEnemies
You’ll encounter some new Xenomorph forms as you progress.

Taking its cue from Aliens, most of the enemies you’ll encounter are various Xenomorph types, most of which were made famous as action figures and never seen in the movies. You’ll be blasting away at recognisable Xenomorphs such as Warriors (who resemble the Xenomorphs from Aliens), Stalkers (who are more like the Xenomorph seen in Alien), and Chestbursters but also encounter Alien Arachnoids, Smashers, and the Queen’s Royal Guard. Oddly, you’ll also come across zombie-like humans and cut your way through the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s personal army as they seek to use the Xenomorphs as biological weapons.

AVPBosses
The game’s fidelity to the source material is impressive.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2D sidescroller without some big boss battles; you’ll battle the hulking Alien Chrysalis, the deadly Raor Claws, a couple of infected Predators, some Power Loaders, and, of course, the gigantic Xenomorph Queen…twice. Most of these bosses will also spawn a bunch of lesser enemies to distract you can whittle you down, meaning that it’s best to partner up with at least one other player to take on these big guys. While the gameplay and premise of Alien vs. Predator is nothing new or exciting, what sets it apart is its aesthetic fidelity to the look and feel of both franchise but, in particular, Aliens; the sprites and backgrounds are big, colourful, and full of energy, making you feel as though the iconic Predator has been dropped right into the middle of Cameron’s action/horror sci-fi classic, which is exactly what Alien vs. Predator should be.

AVPMulti
Team up with a friend to cut through the alien hordes.

It is extremely satisfying to punch and skewer your way through the seemingly-endless swarms of Xenomorphs and seeing a Predator wield the classic Aliens weaponry, as well as their own iconic weapons, never gets old. It’s repetitive at times, of course (it is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, after all) but it’s a fantastic way to waste an hour or so with a friend (or alone). While a similar title was also released for the SNES a year before, this classic arcade title has been lost to the mists of time and complicated rights and legal issues. Thankfully, thanks to the release of the Capcom Home Arcade, you can relive this timeless classic in the (relative) comfort of your own home (as long as you have the cash). Of you can just emulate the game on a Raspberry Pi or similar console and get to slaughtering those Xenomorph scum right away, and I highly recommend that you do.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play Alien vs. Predator in an arcade? If so, what did you think? If not, why not go give a play? Either way, leave your memories and impressions below and let me know what you think.