Saturday, 4 June 2016

Curiosities Vol. 8 - Secret Shooting Games

Something I've always liked since I was a kid was secrets in games, and especially secrets that added extra fun to games, like stages or characters. Like most early-90s kids, I was obsessed with Sonic, and got really excited when I heard there was a secret stage hidden in the cartridge, the Hidden Palace Zone. Of course, all that excitement turned to disappointment when I used my cousin's Action REplay to access the HPZ and it was just unplayable garbage with a title card. Even more exciting than hidden bits of games, though, are entire hidden games, which is what this post is about.

Before I really start, I want to clarify the difference between "secret" and "unlockable": unlockable games will be easily accessible from an in-game menu, and the game might even acknowledge the games before they're available. Secret games require cheats or passwords to get to, and the game doesn't let you know they're there if you don't know about them already. There'll probably be posts about some unlockable games on this blog in the future, but today I'm talking about three secret games, that also happen to all be shooting games hidden away in the bowels of non-shooting games. 

First up is Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf for the Mega Drive. It's a golf game, that would be totally forgotten by history, were it not for its secret. And that secret is a simple little game based on SEGA's beloved Fantasy Zone games. It's a single-screen shooter in which you have one life and a constantly increasing score, and all you have to do is stay alive for as long as possible. It's very simple and you're unlikely to last very long, but it is fun. The only problem is that it's a pain to get to: you have to get a game over in the main game, then input the famous Konami code on the game over screen. Getting a game over requires using one hundred shots on a single hole, which will take you about ten minutes. Best to do this in an emulator, and make a save state on the game over screen.

Next is another, much better Mega Drive game: Mega-lo Mania (known as "Tyrants: Fight Through Time" in America), which is a surprisingly deep real-time strategy game about giant immortal floating heads using humans to wage war against each other. Inputting the password "JOOLS" into the game's save/load option also unlocks a weird, vaguely asteroidsy shooting game where you fly around space and impotently shoot at seemingly-intangible enemies, until one of the main game's floating heads says "do you want to be on my side", then flies in and smashes you to death. Yeah, it's not very good. But luckily, Mega-lo Mania is really good, so once you've got over the novelty of having a secret game in there, you can just play that instead.

I've saved the most impressive secret shooter till last, and it's hidden in the early Playstation 3D fighting game Zero Divide. Though it's a game that's been forgotten by history, Zero Divide's got a lot of charm, and that mainly comes from the fact that the developers were obviously very excited about the inherent possibilities of all the storage space on a CD (compared to cartridges and floppy disks) and even the memory card. There's tons of unlockable stuff, some of which comes only after the game's been played for 200 hours, and there's a lot of weird experimental stuff too, like an annoying DJ who comments on how well or badly you play.

But anyway, among its many other features, Zero Divide also includes Tiny Phalanx, a cut-down port of the X68000/SNES shooter Phalanx, a game that's infamous in the west for the bizarre boxart the SNES version got in North America. It's unlocked by holding start and select on the second controller as the game loads up, and it's really good. It looks and sounds great, it's got proper power-up and scoring systems and it's just really impressive for a secret freebie. Since Zero Divide came out in 1995, there were probably full games being released at the same time that were lower quality.

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