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Grab Bag: 1987 part 2

At the end of last month, we looked at three titles from the year 1987, taking stock of their pros and cons thirty years after their original release. I like to think of the process as something between an honest review, a nostalgic look back,

At the end of last month, we looked at three titles from the year 1987, taking stock of their pros and cons thirty years after their original release. I like to think of the process as something between an honest review, a nostalgic look back, and a brutal Friar’s Club roast (except I’m nowhere near as funny as any of those guys). This week I’ve chosen three more games from ’87 for us to slap around before giving them a big kiss and saying “happy 30th.”

 

Karate Kid

Atlus/LJN

November 1987

Daniel turns the Japanese kids on to some Florida-style death metal. I like how “map” is just a line.

Here’s another license LJN got their grubby hands on during the 80s. I never had a strong opinion about any of the films,but karate was a big deal during the era in question and I understand why they had such success. I hear they’re doing a TV series, which makes me happy for Ralph Macchio since he really faded into the background once he hit adulthood. I digress… the NES game lumps the first two films together, focusing mainly on the second installment set in Japan. The first “stage” consists of a karate tournament that can be won relatively easily by spamming kicks and being insanely aggressive. Once you end up in Okinawa, things get trickier. You have to fight tons of thugs (some of them are carrying what look like harpoons), walk through a typhoon, and save your cute Japanese girlfriend from the massive prick who’s the student of Miyagi’s rival in the second movie. You actually have to save her twice, but only one of those times require you to actually beat Growly Scowly (a quick Wikipedia search tells me his name is Chozen and the girl’s name is Kumiko). Truly, Daniel-san was living a modern otaku’s wet dream. Or hero fantasy. I don’t know.

I can’t really smear Karate Kid in terms of overall quality. It’s hard but not stupid hard, has some pretty cool minigames, and there’s a level of polish present that you can tell Atlus was responsible for. The graphics are pretty good except for two things: the power-ups are just letters, and what the fuck is up with Daniel’s face in some of the minigames?

like a kewpie doll cross-bred with a Roswell alien.

My one complaint is that the game’s kind of short once you get the hang of it. Otherwise, Karate Kid is one of those few exceptions to a rule: a game published by LJN that didn’t come out the other end looking like forty dollars worth of chewed bubblegum.

 

Black Tiger

Capcom

August 1987

Listen up, because this is one of Capcom’s less well-known arcade titles, but probably one of its best from the pre-SFII era. Black Tiger is fucking crazy. The story’s fairly basic: three dragons slapped a kingdom around until that kingdom was pretty much bullshit; enter the protagonist, a berserk knife-hurling bodybuilder who wears just enough armor to look armored but never enough not to show the world how he keeps it real in the gym.

“Like what you see?”

Let me veer slightly off topic for a second, in reference to the main character’s melee weapon: these things are called flails, not morningstars or mace-and-chain. A flail, which evolved from the ancient tool used to process grain, is one or more weighted heads on lengths of rope or chain, affixed to a handle. A morningstar (also called a godentag, meaning “good day,” a morbid twist of humor I adore) is usually just a massive club with bands of iron and spikes augmenting the ass-beating end.

So our dude here battles his way through a dangerous fantasy world using a deadly throwing knife/flail combo, smashing the minions of the three dragons and un-petrifying some “wise men” he finds as stone statues along the way. For his trouble, the stone-to-fleshed guys will give the hero extra time on the clock or zenny coins. I KNOW A BUNCH OF YOU NERDS LOVE MONSTER HUNTER, so that currency will sound familiar; Black Tiger was the game that first featured it. Anyway, chests and hidden treasures (in walls, etc.) have more powerups like armor, life refills, extra lives, and more. Just like another Capcom title, Magic Sword, some of the chests are full of nothing but fuck-you and will hurt you if you don’t react quickly after opening them. You can also spend those sexy zenny coins on items in shops run by the little beardy guys you keep de-stoning. While the game is a platformer, it has a lot of areas to explore… almost enough that you’d want a map screen or something, but it’s pretty hard to actually get lost.

Bedecked in gold, ready to obliterate a dragon-man.

I am all about Black Tiger. It’s very Capcom with its epic but cartoon-like presentation, and it’s a lot of fun to play despite having a level of difficulty typical of a coin-op title. Capcom has a history of doing fairly well when crafting fantasy-style games, and this is no exception. I can’t even come down too hard on the one misgiving I do have about Black Tiger: when heard through the original equipment (or an emulation thereof), the sound effects are fucking annoying. As if to compensate, the music is of a quality on par with Capcom’s other arcade stuff… above average.

 

Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa

Sega

October 1987

The cutest little sapient spaceship you ever did see.

I love the original Fantasy Zone. I enjoy shooters in general, and Fantasy Zone‘s combo of excellent gameplay elements and a goofy style has me lovingly devoted to it. I cannot and will not speak ill of it. It is severely awesome and if you disagree with me you should probably just go the rest of the way in that direction and admit that you’ve secretly hated video games since you were born.

I don’t get the same gooey feeling in my black heart when I play this sequel, but it’s also very good. The first thing I noticed was that the backgrounds are absolutely breathtaking. Much more

both the laser-burger boss and the candy-cake mountains are rendered in deliciously deep color.

attention was paid to this aspect the second time around, and it’s most evident in the arcade version (which came after the Mark III/Master System version, in a world where arcade versions are usually the mommy). The music isn’t quite equal to that of the original in terms of catchy-ness or charm, but a couple of tracks (notably rounds 1 and 5) come close to hitting the mark.

FZII plays very similarly to its predecessor; a little added complexity comes from the fact that each zone has two “sides” to clear before the boss shows up. Speaking of the bosses, expect no punches pulled. They are every bit as challenging as you’d hope, and you’ll have to stay alert and be quick. While FZII seems on its surface to to be a minimally altered clone of its predecessor, I’m already planning to open up my emulator after this to play it some more. Unlike so many sequels and second chapters in various media, it’s satisfyingly true to its origin but enough of its own animal that it could stand on its own merits.

 

Karate Kid – 6/10 (It’s not a classic, but it’s really quite good for something LJN has its name on, which impressed the shit out of me)

Black Tiger – 7/10 (when I rate something 7/10 it means I like it but I couldn’t play it nonstop for more than a day or so, which is right where this one falls in. Still a fantastic arcade platformer!)

Fantasy Zone II – 8/10 (I’ll stop comparing it to the original, but it’s definitely worth playing if you liked the first one.)

bryan.eddy@newretrowave.com

Review overview

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