Saturday, 21 April 2018

Curiosities Vol. 14 - SEGA Saturn Sample Program Ver. 1.00

So, this interesting piece of history was recently found and released by someone over at the segaxtreme.net forums. It is as the title suggests: a sample program for the Saturn that shows various different graphical tricks it can do. It starts with a menu featuring items such as "Scroll Sample", "Sprite Sample", and so on, and most of them have several options inside them.

First up is Scroll Sample, which lets you see various kinds of scrolling, obviously. You can have a bunch of random garbage scrolling across the screen, numerous blocks of letters scrolling around in layers, a kind of distorted blob moving over a picture of sonic and tails, and so on. The most interesting part of this menu is the option that has a seemingly infinite field of textured cubes floating in a heavenly white background.

Next there's Sprite Sample, which as a little more interactivity. In here, there are options that let you spin various simple shapes around, you can move an Opa Opa sprite around to see how the Saturn handles shadows, you can distort and warp an enemy sprite from Fantasy Zone, and you can spin and rotate a little polygon gem thing. Oh, and look at some spinning cubes demonstrating different kinds of shading the Saturn can do, too.

Window Sample is probably the least interesting menu, as it just lets you see sprites moving inside transparent windows, so we'll move straight on to Game Sample, which is a simple little 2D shooting game where you avoid bullets and shoot red triangles and sonic sprites for points. Nothing spectacular, obviously, but it is a thing that exists, at least. It's just a sample, showing that the Saturn can indeed keep track of things and allow players to control objects and generally all the bare minimum things expected of a games console.

Finally, there's the enigmatically named 2/14 Demo (which is presumably a demo, made on the fourteenth of February). This shows a cube thing with SEGA-related animated textures on each side, floating above a magic carpet, with mountains in the background. It's all very ~aesthetic~.

Obviously, something like this isn't going to provide more than a few minutes of entertainment for anyone, but of course that was never its purpose. It is interesting to see these kinds of primordial test programs from consoles' development cycles, though. Even though they're only a couple of decades old, there's something about them that feels immeasurably ancient and secret. Sorry if this is a bit of a lacklustre post, but I've been slightly unwell recently and I just didn't want to go too long without posting. I'm mostly better now, though, so there'll be a proper post in a few days.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Bunmei Korokoro Game Egg (Playstation)

It's really amazing that even though the Playstation is one of the most popular consoles of all time, and even though it's one of the systems that's been featured on this blog most of all, there are still weird obscure little gems to discover in its incredibly vast library. Of course, Bunmei Korokoro Game Egg is one such gem (the title, I believe, translates to something like "Civilisation Rolypoly Game Egg", in case you're wondering).

So the basic premise of the game is that you control some kind of cosmic god-egg, that rolls across flat, barren plains, leaving civilisation in its wake. Of course, you aren't alone in what I assume is a young, fledgling universe, as each plain also has another, differently-coloured egg rolling around in it. A cool little touch is that each colour egg has its own architectural style for the buildings that spring up whereever it goes, and they range from styles based on various realworld civilisations, to futuristic sci-fi type settings, bio-organic growths and even brightly coloured abstract solid shapes.

I haven't been able to play the Versus mode, so unfortunately I can't tell you about that, but the single player mission mode sees you taking on your rival eggs in a series of battles, each with different objectives, like an olympic games for ovoid dieties. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: first, let's describe the basic mechanics, or at least, as much as I've been able to figure out of them.

So, the game is turn-based, and you move your egg by selecting a direction, then chosing your speed on a moving power bar, like the kind you get in old-style golf or bowling games. Most of the time, when you move, you cause buildings to sprout up behind you, but not always! There are five options you can choose from before you move (though the offensive options aren't always available): the egg is the standard movement that lays buildings, the signpost lets you turn already-laid buildings into protective barriers over which your opponent can't roll, the ocean wave and sunrise both cause massive destruction in the surrounding area where your egg stops rolling, and the coloured zig-zags work similarly to the egg, except they cause earthquakes in your wake instead of growth.

It should also be noted that when an area of blank squares is completely surrounded by your buildings, that area will then completely fill up with your buildings too. The first time this happens in a stage, a strange spinning, swirly tower will also spawn. This tower will get taller and more elaborate the more area on the map you've taken over, too. Your egg can take damage, either by bashing into the walls around the edges of the map, by rolling other enemy territory, or by being bashed into by the opponent's egg. I'm not 100% sure on how healing works, but it seems that you slowly heal by rolling over and stopping in your own territory, and sometimes if you stop in a particularly large piece of your own turf, a big cryogenic chamber thing will appear around you, and you'll have healed a lot by the start of your next turn. But like I say, I'm not totally sure on how accurate these methods are, or exactly how to make the chamber appear. Your tower is something of a weakpoint for your empire, too, as if the enemy bashes into it, it'll shrink a level or two, and a whole bunch of your land will disappear.

Now on to the actual missions. I don't know how many missions there are in single player mode, but I got up to mission five, the objective of which I couldn't figure out at all. Each mission takes about 20-30 minutes to get through, as turns go by pretty slowly, and you usually have a pretty hefty task ahead of you. The first two missions are both simple enough to figure out: take over 30% of the map, and bash your opponent's egg until they crumble to bits. Mission three is a little more complex, as the mission is to wait until your opponent has built a tower, then destroy their tower. I had the most success on this stage by eschewing any kind of defensive tactic, and just going straight in to bash their tower down. Waste too much time, and you risk breaking your own shell before you've knocked their tower down. The fourth mission was interesting, but very easy: build your tower up to the maximum height (level nine), which you do by simply claiming a lot of land. The AI was really terrible on this stage, as they seemed more interrested in rolling over very tiny portions of my land to cause me almost unnoticable amounts of damage, while I just went about my busniess claiming more than half the entire map.

So that was a good few hours I got in on this game, and I definitely intend to play more of it, and hopefully get others interested in doing the same so we can all learn more about this strange and original game. Of course this means that this review is ending in an unquestioned recommendation, so go and track it down and play it at the earliest opportunity!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Cyber Cross - Busou Keiji (PC Engine)

I don't know why, but transformation became something of a theme in single-plane beat em ups during the late 80s, as the genre was in its waning phase and belt-scrolling beat em ups become more popular. In the arcade, there was Altered Beast and Wonder Momo with transformation gimmicks, though they were very different in both execution and theme. Cyber Cross is another to add to those, though it was never in the arcade, being a PC Engine exclusive. And it kind of takes thematic cues from Wonder Momo, and mechanical influence from Altered Beast, but executes both much better than its more famous forbears.

Like Wonder Momo, it's themed around tokusatsu superheroes, though it does this in a much better way than Namco's. While Wonder Momo seeks to replicate live stage shows, Cyber Cross goes directly for a TV show feel, and, despite being on a HuCard rather than a CD, makes a valiant attempt at having a TV-style intro. There's not much animation, and there's no actual vocals, but it does have lyrics displayed onscreen if you're Japanese-literate and want to sing along with the intro to a thirty-year-old videogame.

The mechanical influence from Altered Beast is only very slight, however: you collect items to gradually take on ever more powerful forms. It works in a much more interesting way then Altered Beast, though, as rather than havign a different final form on each stage, there are three kinds of transformation items, and each has a different final form. You start as a regular guy in a red jacket, and the first time you collect one of the items, the only difference between the three is the colour of your costume. If you manage to keep your health higher than 50% until the next time one appears, then you get to take on a slightly more impressive form, with armour and a weapon. The weapon you get depends on which colour item you've collected: red gets you a fairly useless sword, green gets you a slightly useless boomerang, and blue gets you an actually pretty useful gun.

You should always take whatever you're given though, since all the weapons are better than your regular punch and the armour on your sprite in this form isn't just for show: It protects your health bar from three hits before you're shunted back down to the basic transformation. Unlike a lot of tokusatsu-themed games, Cyber Cross doesn't cheap out on the enemies. Though there are a few different varieties of the same foot soldier that appears in every stage, right from the start they're backed up by various other monsters like giant flies, big dung beetle-men, and other buggy fiends. The bosses aren't bug-themed, oddly enough, though they do tend to stick to the human-animal hybrid template. Also, unlike a lot of PC Engine games, it wasn't designed with turbo controllers in mind, as all the bosses will crumple like wet cardboard boxes if you turn on the turbo and crouch next to them punching at maximum speed.

Cyber Cross is a pretty strong entry into a now long-forgotten genre, and if you want to get a real copy, you can get it boxed for pretty cheap. I recommend doing so, too: it might take a while to really click with you, but when it does, it's a really fun little game.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Palamedes II - Star Twinkles (NES)

You might remember that a while back, I reviewed the arcade game Palamedes, which was all about matching dice and forming hands and so on. Palamedes II is the sequel to that game, obviously. It's still about matching dice and forming hands, but it's been completely re-jigged to make a much faster, more competitive game.

The most obvious difference compared to the first game (and the only one that Wikipedia mentions) is that the dice now rise up from the bottom of the screen, rather than descending from the top, but there are many more changes. For example, while before, your character held a die, and you would cycle through the sides, throwing it up to hit a matching die above. Now, you press a button to shuffle the column of dice directly beneatht you, and another to take the top of the column. Complicating this is the fact that you can only take a die that is the same, or one higher or lower than the last die that was taken. This is simple enough to keep track of in the single player endurance mode, but when you've got an opponent, the same "last die taken" applies to both players, which offers an extra little strategic element as you try and ruin your opponent's hands while building your own.

The hands themselves have also changed, as they're now made up of only four dice instead of six, which means versus games are a lot faster, with both sides forming hannds and cashing them in every couple of seconds, and as a result, both characters moving up and down the screen quickly. It's pretty exciting, and a good change all round, even if it does take away the satisfaction of forming a nice clean 1-2-3-4-5-6 hand like in the first game. I should probably mention that as the dice are ascending up the screen, the characters stand on a platform on top of them, and you lose when your character is crushed between their platform and the ceiling. Oh, and forming hands erases rows of dice from beneath you, and forces the same number to quickly rise up beneath your opponent. Those are pretty important details, but I just couldn't find a place to fit them in until now.

I've said this before about competitive puzzle games, but though Palamedes II is a great game, it's in a genre with some pretty much perfect entries in the form of the Puyo Puyo series, the Magical Drop series, and in more recent times, Puyo Puyo x Tetris, too. But if you've got a Famicom (or a NES with an adaptor, or some other Famicom-compatible console) and you see a copy of this game going cheap somewhere, it's definitely worth picking up.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Soleil (Mega Drive)

A lot of the reviews of Soleil (also known as Ragnacenty or Crusader of Centy) compared it to A Link to the Past. At first glance, this seems pretty apt: they're both top-down action RPGs, they both star young boys with swords, they both have you cutting grass to find coins. The thing is, it's only at first glance that comparision holds up. If you really need to compare Soleil to a SNES game, the one to go for would be Earthbound (or Mother 2). (It should be noted, however, that Earthbound wasn't yet out when Soliel was released. But that doesn't make the Zelda comparision any less lazy.)

Though they don't have a lot in common mechanically, or even aesthetically, with Earthbound being a Dragon Quest-style turn-based RPG set in a strange version of mid-twentieth century America, and Soleil being an action RPG set in a pastel-hued fantasy realm, they're both games that have narrative ambitions well beyond what was expected of console games at the time of their release, and conversely, well beyond their peers.

There's plenty of people who have written about Earthbound's setting and writing and so on, and I'm not a particularly big fan of it, so I'm not going to reitierate much about it, but basically, the people who do love tend to take from it not only a strong sense of nostalgia, but a real emotional resonance, and it's often said that the game does a good job of replicated the world in which a child lives. Clearly, its ambitions were loftier than most RPGs that existed at that point, which were almost all sci-fi or fantasy stories (that's not to say that there weren't good stories among them, just that they weren't literarily ambitious).

Soleil, though starts with a typical fantasy setting in which boys from the village long to become heroic monster killers when they grow up ,and so on, it quickly subverts it in a number of ways. The first subversion is seen when the village boys go to see off an older boy, Amon, as he leaves the village to go and kill monsters and be a hero. You encounter Amon once or twice later in the game, too, and there's the implication that in a more traditional RPG story, he would be the player character with the lofty destiny.

Instead of the normal heroic quest, Soleil's protagonist is embroiled in a number of bizarre events, during which they gain the power to speak to animals, temporarily get turned into a monster, and ever go to heaven while still alive. Possibly the most important of these, and definitely the most interesting is the section of the game where you're turned into a monster. At the risk of spoiling an important part of the game's story, you basically find out that monsters largely live in mortal terror of human heroes, and just want to be left alone, and that the monsters you kill do have families that mourn their passing. It's something that could have been just a throwaway joke in the vein of the henchman's family scene in one of the Austin Powers movies, but it's played totally straight, and though you do go back to kiling monsters when you retain your human form, you are given a new purpose in life: to find out why humans and monsters fight, and to strive towards ending that conflict.

So, that's Soleil. I can't say if the writers of 1994 were genuinely lazy or stupid in their easy comparisions, or if the climate of the time simply made the idea of thematic criticism of a videogame totally unthinkable to them, but either way, they were wrong. Soleil is a game that's worth playing on its own merits, and should hold a place in history alongside the Mother games as an early attempt to subvert and experiment with what's possible in a videogame's narrative.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Yakuza Fury (PS2)

I know what you're thinking, and for a long time, I thought the same: this game must be a mockbuster for SEGA's Yakuza series, right? But, in researching for this post, I found evidence to the contrary! The Japanese version of this game (Simple 2000 Series Vol. 72: The Ninkyou) was released ten whole months before the Japanese release of the first Yakuza game. Even more surprising is that if GameFAQs is to be believed, even the European release of Yakuza Fury preceded the Japanese release of Yakuza! So it's just a coincidence that there's a low budget game with a similar genre and similar themes to a massively popular high budget game.

Having played a lot of Simple Series games at this point, I can confidently say this one follows the formula to the letter. It's a simple action game (in this case, a beat em up), with stuff to grind for, and long boring cutscenes that have all the voice acting removed from the European version. It even has a low poly rendition of a contemporary Japanese suburb, like so many other low budget PS2 games have! Anyway, the game's split into two parts, essentially: the story missions, where you go to a place, and keep beating people up until you get to the boss fight, and the free-roaming bit. The free roaming bit is actually the least interesting: you can wander around a few streets of the aforementioned suburb, where enemies will constantly run in from the sides of the screen to attack you. There's also a few people standing around that you can talk to, though the enemies don't stop attacking you while you do.

The point of fighting the endless hordes of enemies is to collect the coins they drop so you can buy items of clothing at the shop (an interesting little detail is that the girl in the shop is wearing a t-shirt featuring the main character of another Simple game, The Splatter Action/Splatter Master). They offer minor benefits, but the most important ones to buy are the hakama trousers, which give you an incredibly useful (to the point of almost breaking the game) healing ability, and the eyepatch (listed here as "bandage"), which looks really cool. When you get bored of this, or you've bought every item in the shop, you go and find where the next stage starts, watch a boring cutscene, then beat everyone up in the stage.

I'm not just saying that the cutscenes are boring because I hate cutscenes (though I do, as you know), but because they are the most lifeless, generic gangster nonsense you can imagine. None of the characters have any personality and nothting in the story is remotely interesting. Or maybe I've just been spoiled by the incredible story and characters in the Yakuza games (I know it's not fair to keep comparing them like this, but it's also very hard to avoid). The combat is also unexciting. You get a simple punch combo, which you can end with a kick, and you also get throws, which are so short range and slow that you'll probably never get one to actually connect.

I hate being so negative when reviewing a game, but Yakuza Fury is just an incredibly bland nothing of a game, that's not even bad in an interesting or unique way. It's just plain old mediocre tedium. Don't play it.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Punch the Monkey - Game Edition (Playstation)

This game's got a pretty strange title, but it's there for a reason, as it's a pretty strange idea. Punch The Monkey was an album released in 1998 which featured a bunch of remixes of songs from the various animated adaptations of Monkey Punch's universally-beloved character Lupin III, and this is a videogame adaptation of that album, released in 2000.

Of course, it's a rhythm game, and it's an incredibly simple one at that: the song plays, an animated FMV is shown in the middle of the screen, and Playstation face buttons travel across the bottom of the screen. In the middle of the screen at the bottom, there's a little crosshair, and when a button reaches it, you press the button. There's also a set of colours at the top of the screen, showing how well you're doing, ranging from red (the worst) to blue (the best). At certain points in the song, if you're not in green or blue, you fail and have to start again. It's so simple, it's the kind of thing that you'd see as a minigame in an RPG or something, rather than its own whole game.

Simple doesn't mean easy, though, and it took me about six attempts to get past the first stage. It seems that this is a question of balance, rather than overall difficulty, though, as I breezed through the next few stages without problems. There are some other odd decisions besides the stage order, too, like how you don't actually get to hear most of the songs you're meant to be playing along with, as your button presses all make very loud noises that drown everythig else out, from bullet ricochets on some stages, to doorbells and animal sounds on others. Interesingly, the general presentation of the game is very much a part of a certain aesthetic things in the late 1990s/early2000s had when they were cashing in on 1970s nostalgia. Some of the fonts and swirly background patterns seen at certain points in this game are very reminiscent of the UK VHS and DVD releases of the 1970s Japanese TV show  Monkey/Saiyuuki that came out at around the same time.

Unfortunately, there isn't much more to be said about the game itself, though. There are apparently a series of minigames, unlocked by completing the main game on all difficulties but the easiest, and through those minigames, FMV clips can be unlocked to watch at your leisure, but it's just not worth playing through such a simple and unengaging main game. So all I have left is this little bit of trivia: it was developed by the company Kaze, who I associate more with their two excellent pinball games on Saturn, Last Gladiators and Necronomicon. Two years later, they also released Akira Psycho Ball, a very experimental and strange pinball game on PS2, which, like this game, was licensed from a popular classic anime, and also featured heavy use of FMV clips in little windows. How interesting!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Super Bikkuriman - Densetsu no Sekiban (Game Boy)

You might already be aware of Bikkuriman as a franchise, but if you're not, it's a line of snacks that were popular in Japan from the late 1970s onwards, that also had stickers in the packets. The characters from the stickers were popular enough to have been featured in various anime and videogame tie-ins over the years, the most well-known in the west probably being the PC Engine game Bikkuriman World, which was an altered port of the arcade game Wonderboy in Monster Land. As far as I can tell, though, this game is completely new.

Like most licensed games from the early 1990s, though it is a platform game, and coming from 1992, it's actually an early example of a problem I associate with the later years of the Game Boy's life: developers being way too ambitious with the size of their sprites. Like you can see in the screenshots, the sprite in this game are huge, which doesn't give them a lot of space to move around the screen, and limits the distance you can see. And that does cause a lot of problems with leaps of faith and so on. Luckily, though, it is ambitious in other ways, and they at least make it an interesting game, if not a good one.

Firstly, your character's lifebar is split in half, with the second half being a power meter that goes up as you attack enemies, and down as you take damage. However, the less life you have left, the higher the maximum amount of power you can store gets, like in Psychic Force 2012. Once the meter reaches a certain level for the first time, you can press start to take on a more powerful form, who looks cooler and can fly and shoot projectiles. In this form, once the power meter reaches a certain level, you can press start to use a super attack, summoning a phoenix or a dragon (depending on which character you're playing as, and they seem to alternate stage-by-stage) to smite your enemies. So brave players might want to try sacrificing their health so they can easily perform this attack twice in a row as soon as they reach the boss (though this is both brave and foolish, as the game's massive sprites make it pretty hard to dodge attacks a lot of the time).

It's nothing ground breaking, but it's more complexity than you might expect from a licensed Game Boy platformer in 1992. And there's more too! As well as the main game, the developers have also included a little beyblade-esque spinning tops minigame accessible from the main menu, presumably as a way to shoehorn in a multiplayer mode. Before you start, you choose whether to emphasise power or speed, and whoever runs out of speed frst loses. So go with speed every time and you'll win. I can't imagine this sold many more copies of the game, and I honestly wonder if two Game Boys and two copies of this were ever connected together, even once. But it was probably a request from the licensor or the publisher that they had to include some kind of multiplayer thing.

Super Bikkuriman - Densetsu no Sekiban isn't anything revolutionary, and I definitely don't recommend going out of your way to track down a copy. But if you ever happen upon a loose cartridge on sale for practically no money at all (like I did), it wouldn't hurt to pick it up.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Minesweeper (PC Engine)

Traditionally, the main strength of Minesweeper has been the fact that it's insantly accessible on your computer's desktop at a second's notice. Logically, therefore, a version of the game that requires a console, a TV and a physical copy of the game might seem superfluous to the point of absurdity. And it is! But still, the PC Engine version of Minesweeper does have something in its favour, which is, like what the arcade game Logic Pro did for nonograms (that is, making an actual videogame out of them), as does this with the concept of Minesweeper.

There's four modes to choose from once you start the game, though we can disregard two of them right off the bat: one's just regular old Minesweeper, and the other lets you choose the size of the grid and the number of mines. The meat of the game is in the other two modes: The Voyage and Cook's Quest. The Voyage is the least interesting of the two, being set in the high seas of the sixteenth century, it's just a long series of pre-set Minesweeper grids for you to gradually progress through in order. What really kills the draw of this mode is that despite being on the PC Engine CD, a system that has space for game saves built into itself, Minesweeper expects you to write passwords down like some kind of stone-age oaf, which wouldn't be so bad in a normal game, but remember: this is just another layer of obfuscation put on top of what is already a comedically inconvenient way to play Minesweeper.

The other mode, Cook's Quest suffers from the same problems of pre-set rids and lack of saves, but I'm willing to give it much more leeway simply because it's generally a much more interesting concept and a lot more fun to play. In this mode, each grid is part of a large underground cave complex, and there are doors dotted around the edges. You aren't expected to clear every mine on every grid, just carve out a safe path to the doors and to the various treasures and items strewn about the place too. This is actually a pretty addictive mode, and not only is it a lot more fun and interesting than regular Minesweeper, but it actually makes sense to be using a D-pad rather than a mouse in this mode, since you can't go more than a space away from the safe spaces you've already revealed.

Though it's obvious that the grids are pre-set to make this a fairly-designed game, it is a buzz killer to be digging around for half an hour, only to misclick and go all the way back to the start to solve the exact same puzzles again to get back to where you were. Maybe it could have had both pre-set and randomised modes, like Toejam and Earl on the Mega Drive? What would be really cool is if you were digging for artifacts, and each one had an in-game encyclopedia entry, like in La Mulana or something. But I'm just fantasy game designing now, aren't I?

Anyway, Minesweeper is a ridiculous game that shouldn't really exist. But it does, and you can get a copy dirt cheap. I recommend you do so, just so you can play Cook's Quest and fantasise about how much better it would have been with just a few changes. Aah.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Black Touch 96 (Arcade)

The title Black Touch 96 might sound like some creepy Qix-clone with lewd pictures in the background, but it's actually something totally different and equally as bad: an unfinished Korean beat em up (with lewd pictures between stages)! Though it's unfinished and therefore a bit rough around the edges, it still has all the typical hallmarks of terrible Korean arcade games we've come to know and hate over the years: low quality sampled music, power up items that don't seem to do anything, sound effects stolen from other games (in this case, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs) and generally unbalanced difficulty are all present and correct. However, it also has some quirks of its own, mainly aesthetic, to stand out from the awful pack.

For example, the enemies. There's only a few of them you'll fight throughout the game, but they are at least unique. There's a mutant man-baby thing that hits you with a wrench, a bald woman who takes off her wig to hit you with, and a fat guy on a skateboard wearing shorts, a vest and a horned helmet, among less interesting ones like the biker-without-a-bike, and recoloured versions of bosses you've already beaten. Of course, all of the above reappear again and again with different colour palettes, though their difficulty and how much health they have seems to be completely unrelated, as one enemy will go down in two hits, while the next one of the exact same type will take twenty seconds of solid pummelling. Solid pummelling is also the strategy for beating every boss: get them to the edge of the screen and hammer the punch button until they die or your arm drops off.

There's no choice of characters, you're stuck with a generic muscular guy, and your attack options are limited. You've got buttons for punches and kicks, a jump button that's completely pointless (you do a tiny little jump in place, and if you press kick while doing it, you do an unimpressivle spin-kick that removes a third of your own health bar), and you also have a once-per-life bomb attack. The bomb attack is at least hilarious, though, as rather than killing all the enemies onscreen, it just makes them run away. On that note, I should, in the interest of fairness, commend the game on its sprite-pushing ability: the character sprites are all pretty big, and the screen does get crowded at times, with up to six enemies at a time. There's no weapons to pick up, though, and very few power ups (lots of point items, very rare health packs that restore a miserly amount of HP, and even rarer invincibility potions and extra bombs), and really no variety at all in the stages other than the backgrounds (though they're not bad-looking, unlike the blotchy characters): just walking left to right fighting crowds of the same few enemies over and over.

There's not much to recommend about Black Touch 96. To be fair, that might be why the developers didn't finish it, they just saw that it was a dead end. Some arcade prototypes are glimpses at concepts that were just too out there to be marketable, or at cool games that just came about at the wrong time. This isn't one of those ones, though, and it's not really worth your time.