Saturday, 5 September 2015

Sumo Fighter Tokaido Basho (Game Boy)

Beat em ups are a genre conspicuous by their (relative) absence on the original Game Boy, which seems especially odd, when you consider how many fighting games there are on there (and you'd think fighting games would be both harder to pull off on such weak hardware, and scuppered by the hassle one had to go through to play GB games against another player). Sumo Fighter is one of the proud and the few, however, and it bucks the usual trend of having beat em ups starring slender martial artists or gritty thugs by starring a mawashi-clad, muscle-bound sumo.

The plot isn't anything special, however, he's just journeying across Japan to save a damsel in distress. The setting is very stereotypically Japanese, though, with stages featuring Mt. Fuji, bamboo forests, and Japanese-style castles. The enemies keep in line with this too, with ninjas and geishas and so on. One of the ninja enemies actually bears in incredible likeness to Ryu Hayabusa from the Ninja Gaiden/Ryukenden series, oddly enough.

Anyway, the game itself: you travel across (or sometimes up or down) the stages, jumping on platforms, and beating up enemies as you'd expect. As well as the typical slapping and throwing, you can also perform a running headbutt, and a big dramatic stomping move that damages everything onscreen. Unusually, in beat em up terms, the big stomp attack doesn't come with a limited amount of uses, nor does it deplete the player's health, but instead it just takes a few seconds to perform, and while doing so, leaves the player vulnerable to attack. There's also an experience/levelling up mechanic, that allows you to gradually increase your attack, speed and max health. Experience isn't gained from beating enemies, though, but from collecting mushrooms and gunbai, and from completing bonus stages. There's a few kinds of bonus stages: thumb wrestling, which I was terrible at, arm wrestling, which was a lot easier, and at least one more that I didn't encounter (since bonus stages are chosen at random when you find the gate to enter them). They're the quickest way to build up a lot of experience points, though they don't appear often.

There's a few small problems with the game, and they mostly stem from the stage design. Firstly, the game's sprites are huge and detailed and they look great. Unfortunately, the stage design doesn't cater to them very well, and there's often very little room to safely fight, which can end up in you taking a hit or two through no fault of your own (which is a big deal early one, when you can only take three hits). Secondly, there's some inconsistency regarding the bottom of the screen: on one stage, you'll be climbing ever upwards, and the bottom of the screen will always be a bottomless pit, even if you know there's a platform literally one pixel below it. The next stage, you'll be going down and not only are you expected to constantly be falling off the edge of the screen, you're often making blind leaps of faith and just hoping there isn't going to be an enemy or some spikes when you land.

These little problems aside, though, Sumo Fighter's a pretty good game. It looks great and it's definitely one of the better Game Boy beat em ups (in a totally different league to the likes of WWF Betrayal, for example).

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