Hello all and welcome to the first This Month in Retro of the year! I hope you all had a great switch of the years and have made a bunch of nice resolutions to play even more Retro games. I definitely should at least… given that I can drop all the other games that keep me away from retro goodness. Anyway, enough about me. This month was pretty uneventful in the game industry as a whole, so I’m moving on straight to the games with a short announcement as well.
Going forward, every This Month in Retro will be shorter than we’ve been used to for the last few issues. I noticed that I’ve been pushing myself a bit too hard with trying to talk about like what, 15, 20 games? Several of which I’m not even familiar with at all? As much as I would like to talk about every interesting game, I simply don’t have the time to do so, given how long it takes to research and write these. Besides, I’m probably not wrong in assuming not everyone has the time to read about all these games either, so it’s a win-win situation… probably! Don’t worry though, I will still list the more interesting games that I won’t be talking about just to give you an idea still of what this month was about.
As for this issue, I’ll only be focusing on the western releases. The Japanese-exclusive side was too dry for me to have almost anything to talk about, with the only noteworthy releases being Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ougon Kiseru for the Famicom, and Gaiflame and Atomic Robo-Kid Special for the TurboGrafx-16. As usual, I’ll be covering the games with the critic and fan reception, as well as their legacy to this day, and a set if applicable. So without further ado, let’s move on to the games!
Today’s feature will mostly focus on the NES as most other consoles didn’t have too many releases, but I will try to spice it up regardless. There weren’t too many big names either, but we do have a bunch of hidden gems that I would love to share with you all of which a lot of are on my play queue as well, such as:
|Magic of Scheherazade, The (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 3, 1987
NA: January 15, 1990
The Magic of Scheherazade is an action RPG developed for the NES, taking inspiration after the Arabian tales One Thousand and One Nights. The amnesiac hero travels through time in the hopes to save princess Scheherazade from the evil wizard Sabaron, and does so in an action-adventure setting with the ability to attack monsters on the overworld, but also having the occasional turn-based battles happen. Reviewers at the time have therefore often called this game as a fusion between both The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior, with a nice touch of the action part having more RPG elements as well. Though funnily enough, this game ended up with a mixed reception due to being compared to both by critics as that was also their main critique due to it not feeling as polished as either to them, but at the same time it was also praised for the gameplay and graphics so… make up your mind critics! Fans were far more positive on the game, so comparing it to other games doesn’t always pay off, and it’s better to just see it as its own unique product, which it definitely was. A sequel was also in the plans for a very long time, appearing in magazines quite frequently under the title Golden Empire, but this was unfortunately never meant to be, leaving this as a title that would never get its time to shine beyond the NES.
But that’s what we are here for! A solid set is available for the game, focusing mostly on the main story but also having some diversions such as obtaining some magic and recruiting all party members to join your cause. It’s a fairly lengthy game for the NES, so you’ll definitely get your time worth here.
It was not too uncommon for more popular games to have their fair share of “inspired” games, or just blatant rip-offs. Mega Man would see it’s fair share of such titles like The Krion Conquest, but Castlevania certainly also had several. On the NES, the most infamous would probably be:
|8 Eyes (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 27, 1988
NA: January ??, 1990
You couldn’t try looking closer to Castlevania than 8 Eyes does. The animations and graphics all scream Castlevania, be it from simple things like walking on stairs and jumping. And while it’s easy to just call it a rip-off and leave it at that, 8 Eyes does still try to be its own product–mostly when it comes to the story, which funnily enough is different between versions. In the Japanese version for example, we unashamedly take control of James Bond who goes to the Balkans where a dark ritual involving the resurrection of demons is taking place, which was not cool enough for the North American version so have a post-apocalyptic story instead. Both stories do involve the titular 8 Eyes, which are all collected at the end of each level that can be played in whatever order you please. In that regard it also follows a Mega Man structure, as all bosses at the end of these levels have a weakness that is also obtained from other bosses. But what does actually make this game unique is that it allows for multiplayer: one character taking control of the main character, while the other controls his accompanying eagle. The reception from critics was hard to find, but players were overall mixed on it, citing that the original ideas are fun but that it is held back by being unnecessarily challenging and having worse controls than, well, Castlevania. It’s certainly worth a look if you’re a fan of the inspiration though, and funnily enough this game somehow made it beyond the NES shackles by Piko Interactive acquiring the rights and re-releasing it on Steam as well as on the Evercade.
This game comes with a very solid set that brings the most out of every individual level: find all power-ups, use no subweapons, have a specified amount of health when reaching the boss, beat him, and do so on the hardest difficulty. If you are a fan of achievement spam and are good at games, then this is certainly worth a look because it’s going to be satisfying as all hell.
Since we’re talking about platformers, let’s talk about one that went very under the radar to the point of being unknown to most people. And it’s a shame since it really shouldn’t be!
|Clash at Demonhead (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: January 27, 1989
NA: January ??, 1990
When I say unknown, I truly mean unknown, as I could find literally no critic opinions for this game aside from a single line on Wikipedia stating that some random outlet gave it a 5 out of 10. It just went completely under that radar, which is a massive shame since the game looks solid. It is a 2D Platformer as stated before, but with some nice open-endedness that even results in it getting the Metroidvania tag on various places before the term even existed. But yeah, all levels can be selected at any time and explored in multiple way as well, leading to a total of over 40 routes to take that benefit from our hero getting upgrades like flight and teleportation. All this to rescue a kidnapped professor who created the Doomsday Bomb capable of destroying the world. Maybe… don’t make such a weapon? Thanks? Regardless, the story does go into interesting place, especially for an NES game, making this a title well ahead of its time. And despite critic opinions being non-existent, players absolutely love this game, with every single review on GameFAQs being above an 8. Every aspect of the game gets praise, be it the gameplay, story, or the free-roaming exploration. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s an unreasonable guess to say the game didn’t do too well, with the IP never seeing a return beyond the NES release and no hopes of a sequel ever being made.
Awesome games deserve awesome sets, and set developer Psyduck realised that as well. There are a lot of unique challenges to be found here, be it from going through several routes staying out of pits or approaching bosses with different strategies. Really unique and refreshing set, with currently a low amount of masters, so make sure to take your place on that leaderboard!
Let’s take a small break from Nintendo and see what Sega had to offer this month. They had a pretty fun game this month that normally wouldn’t be on my radar, but my best friend told me about it once and managed to convince me. Can his words convince you too?
|Herzog Zwei (Mega Drive)|
|Release dates||JP: December 15, 1989
NA: January 11, 1990
|Average score||75% (MobyGames, based on 7 reviews)|
So the reason I say it was a game I would normally overlook is because Herzog Zwei is a Real-Time Strategy game, a genre I’m not a fan of. But what convinced me is that it is not simply just a Real-Time Strategy game, but one where you control a transforming mecha that flies around the map to do the RTS stuff as well as transform into a robot to fight the enemy. Genre-defying games are reasons why games like ActRaiser are amongst my favourites, so this certainly does interest me. German people also probably realized that the title translates to “Herzog Two”, as this game is indeed a sequel but to a currently Japanese-exclusive game for home computers. And although the initial reception in America wasn’t great, the European market saw more potential in the game as is often cited as one of the inspirations to many big RTS franchises like Starcraft and Command & Conquer, as well as the MOBA genre as a whole. Therefore, the retrospective legacy this game has received is very positive, marking is as an influential game to the genre and just being beloved by a lot of people. So much so that it is one of the few titles I’m talking about today that did leave the shackles of its original release, receiving a SEGA Ages edition on the Nintendo Switch with new features such as online multiplayer, as well as being one of the games available on the Sega Genesis Mini 2.
The set asks of you to have a victory on every available map on all difficulties, as well as getting enough credits to acquire units for your side. It’s a simpler set, but if you are inexperienced in RTS games like I am, this may very well be a good starting point!
Back to Nintendo we go, but let’s make a short stop at the Game Boy to see what we have there!
|Motocross Maniacs (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||JP: September 20, 1989
NA: January ??, 1990
|Average score||73% (MobyGames, based on 8 reviews)|
Motocross Maniacs is, unsurprisingly, a Motocross Racing game developed exclusively for the Game Boy by Konami. In this game, the player is tasked to go through multiple levels while avoiding to crash as much as possible by controlling both the front- and back of the motorcycle as well as the speed–and crashing is very easy to do with all the loops and pits there are to cross. Crashing takes up precious time, with the player being on a time limit to complete the current stage they are on. Although is looks simple on the outside, Motocross Maniacs is a surprisingly complex game to master–which is good since it is a fairly short game overall with only eight levels, which isn’t too unusual for games released near the Game Boy’s birth. Fortunately the length wasn’t really an issue to most people, as the addicting gameplay made many people return to it after they beat it, which is always good for a portable title. Konami themselves agreed on that, and made two more games in the series afterwards for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.
The goal of this achievement set is pretty simple: qualify on all courses, and make sure to do so as well without crashing. There are some additional achievements for ghost riders as well, but it’s pretty straightforward otherwise. No complaints here though, as it fits the game well!
|Wizards & Warriors Chapter X - The Fortress of Fear (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||NA: January ??, 1990
PAL: November ??, 1990
|Average score||73% (MobyGames, based on 8 reviews)|
NES franchises making the jump to the Game Boy was a very common occurrence, so seeing Wizards & Warriors make the move was an unsurprising but still pleasant surprise. Although the “Chapter X” part of it sure did raise a lot of confusion with players at the time, especially as it chronologically takes place after the second game. Other confusing thoughts were caused by that game taking a slightly more hack ‘n slash approach with linear progression, but other than that it was still the same Wizards & Warriors we all love. Except… it wasn’t? Early Game Boy conversions had a tough time, and this game was no different, suffering from blurring caused by scrolling and slow, challenging gameplay with no continues. Over the years, the reputation for this game only worsened, with there not being a single positive review on GameFAQs, and other outlets also taking their critical shot at it. Eventually a true 3rd game in the series followed and this game was quickly left forgotten. But this is just me mirroring what the internet says, so maybe they’re all wrong and there is a good game to be found here? Only you yourself can give an answer to that question!
Given that there aren’t too many levels, developer MGNS8M still managed to bring the most out of it with not only progression achievements, but doing the levels without dying, as well as collecting every gem and gem-chest before reaching the boss. The one achievement that especially looks fun is reaching the first boss with less than 100 points, since we do have a points system here as well just like the good ol’ days!
Let’s finish it up with one final game. I’ve kept the big one for last this time, as it is one of the few that is part of a major franchise still on-going to this day, as well as one of the more popular NES games in general. Ladies and gents, I bring you…
|River City Ransom (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: April 25, 1989
NA: January ??, 1990
|Average score||70% (MobyGames, based on 8 reviews)|
Although it is the third game in the franchise to be localized, River City Ransom is the name we westerners usually associate with this beat ‘em up side of the kunio-kun franchise. Part of that is because of the legacy it has left behind, seeing multiple re-releases of the game as well as a remake on the Game Boy Advance. This specific side of the franchise would see a resurgence around the early 2010’s, and is still ongoing with WayForward’s River City Girls. It’s a confusing franchise for me as I’ve demonstrated a few months ago when I tackled the thought-to-be-but-not-really Japanese exclusive game taking place in a Japanese play, but I think that’s the gist of it? Anyway, back to the game. What made River City Ransom so cool compared to its fellow beat ‘um up brethren is that it takes place in a non-linear open world fashion, with a gameplay system similar to Double Dragon where the player can move around, kick and punch, and grab items to use to their advantage. As good as that sounds however, the game ended up getting mixed reviews outside of Japan, with one incompetent reviewer from saying he’d rather sit in a vat of horse manure than to play it. Was I mean? Probably, but can you disagree? As mentioned before however, it left quite the legacy behind and is retrospectively seen as one of the more impressive NES games by modern-day critics and players alike. Nowadays, almost no one has much negative to say about the game, and that shows it was a game ahead of its time.
The achievement set brings out the most of the game, focusing not only on the bosses you’ll encounter along the way but also all the upgrades you can buy, techniques you can perform, and a few unique challenges to spice it up. It will keep you busy for a good few hours!
Other interesting releases this month
Games with achievement sets
|Boy and His Blob, A: Trouble on Blobolonia (NES)|
|Demon Sword (NES)|
|Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES)|
|Twin Cobra (NES)|
Games without achievement sets
|Chessmaster, The (NES)|
|Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ougon Kiseru (NES)|
|Rock ‘n’ Ball (NES)|
|Top Gun - The Second Mission (NES)|
And that’s it for this month! Personally speaking, this was far more convenient for me to write than the amount of games I normally do, but I am of course open to feedback. Let me know how you liked this edition of This Month in Retro, I’m always happy to hear from you guys!
While there weren’t a lot of big names this month like the first party franchises from Nintendo and Sega, I would say we still have a great month here if you are looking for some lesser-known games. Especially The Magic of Scheherazade and Clash at Demonhead, with those two already being on my to-play queue for a while, and now that I’ve written about them especially. No real big misses either, as even the games I haven’t linked weren’t bad–just not too interesting. I am certainly curious if Wizards & Warriors Chapter X is as bad as the internet makes it out to be though, but that’s something I will discover eventually when I do a short series playthrough.
Next month is my birthday, so I figured we will jump ahead a few years to the month and year when I was born. What year is it? You’ll find out next month! May have just birthed one of the biggest franchises of all time, but we aren’t going to be talking about that unfortunately. Oh well, see you next time!
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