Monday, September 17, 2012

Five more favorites: Famicom/NES platformers that don't involve a fat, Italian-American plumber

Just over a week ago, I published a similarly titled blog post featuring five of my favorite Famicom/NES games that didn't star Nintendo's famously mustachioed plumber.

As I'm sure you can tell from the headline above, this post covers five more such titles. Do I put them on equal ground with the games I mentioned in the last one? Not really. Still, they're all great and well worth playing, especially if you've yet to experience them.

1. Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun--Often called Kid Dracula by North American heathens like myself, this Konami-made title is the platforming equivalent of the company's Parodius series of shoot 'em ups--only in this case, Castlevania, not Gradius, is the game being parodied. Anyway, thanks to its focus on projectile weapons, this one's always felt like a mash-up of Castlevania and Mega Man to me--which of course means it's a winner. Additional reasons to give this one a try: Its jaunty soundtrack and its brilliant, cartoon-ish visuals.

2. Gimmick!--My first thought upon discovering this Sunsoft-published gem a few years back was that it was some sort of Kirby rip-off. Although it definitely shares Kirby's Candy Land aesthetic (to a degree), Gimmick! plays nothing like that HAL Laboratory-developed classic. In fact, Gimmick! plays more like a Mega Man game than Kirby's Adventure, if you ask me, what with the adorable protagonist's projectile weapon (a star that spawns above his head) and propensity to bounce. Gimmick! differs from Kirby's Adventure in another important area, too--that being that it's far more challenging. In fact, it took me more than a few attempts to make it past this game's first stage. Don't let that keep you from giving this cart a try, though; tough as nails or not, this is a top-shelf platformer that should be experienced by everyone who knows their d-pad from their start button.

3. Pizza Pop!--I had a hard time deciding whether or not to include this Jaleco-published platformer on this list. On the one hand, it's a very charmingly crafted game, with graphics that do a good job of depicting (in a "Sunday funnies" style) its unmistakably American setting and characters. (I also like that it has players do different things pretty much every level: One minute you're dodging dogs and cats on a downtown boulevard, the next you're buzzing along the highway on a scooter while avoiding traffic barriers and other obstacles.) On the other, its gameplay is kind of rough. Specifically, it can be more than a bit "cheap"--an issue that's often exacerbated by the foot speed of its pizza-delivering protagonist. Still, there's plenty of fun to be had while racing through this unique, Jaleco-made platformer if you're patient. (Being a smidge masochistic also helps.)

4. Seirei Densetsu Lickle--The only thing you need to know about this particular platformer: It was made my the fine folks at Taito. OK, so that's not the only thing you need to know, but it is a rather important piece of information--given Taito's history of making top-tier arcade and console games. A few other reasons you should check out the game known to westerners as Little Samson: 1) it features some of the best graphics you'll ever see in a Famicom/NES game, and 2) its gameplay is by far the most unique of any of the platformers included in this post or in its predecessor. You see, it stars four protagonists--a human (the titular "Little Samson"), a mouse, a dragon and a golem--with each of them having different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. (The mouse, for instance, attacks with bombs and can climb walls and ceilings, while the golem can send his stretchy punches in all four cardinal directions and sports the largest health bar of the group.) Seirei Densetsu Lickle sets itself apart from the pack in another way, too: After completing the game's first four stages (which basically serve as tutorials), players can switch between any of its protagonists at will.

5. Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World (aka Panic Restaurant)--Of all the games included in this particular post, I believe this is the only one I've ever mentioned before. Actually, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it many times before, as this has become one of my favorite Famicom/NES games over the last few years. So why didn't I include it in my first "five favorite platformers" post? I'll give you two reasons: 1) this restaurant-based title is really tough, and 2) it's really short (as in, just six stages long). Note: I actually prefer the Chef Boyardee-esque protagonist in the North American version to his snot-nosed Japanese counterpart, but every other aspect of these games is pretty much the same, so I say go with whichever version is easier/cheaper to find. (Assuming any of you are looking to buy it, of course. If you're just planning to play it via emulation, I'd suggest searching for the Panic Restaurant ROM rather than the Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World one.)

See also: 'Five favorites: PC Engine platformers that don't involve Pithecanthropus Computerus'


Viewtiful_Justin said...

1. Mega Man meets Castlevania? Whoa. I'm in.

2. Adorable.

3. There's something about the colors in this screenshot that looks incredibly familiar to me, but I can't figure out why...the only thing that come to mind is Ninja Gaiden...that orange is very familiar.

4. I have the feeling I've played this once a long time ago. I'd be interested in finding it again!

5. Hard as hell! Holy crap this game kicked my ass for a few weeks before I gave it up.

sharc said...

gimmick also came out first, before even the game boy kirby was released. a while back glitterberri translated a rare interview with the game's creator for me:

as an aside, taito was only the publisher for lickle. the game itself was made by takeru, a small outfit with top-shelf expatriates from other companies; most notable being akira kitamura (most likely creator of rockman) and utata kiyoshi (stellar sprite artist and animator).

as for the other three... i'll respectfully say very little cause i hate 'em like rats. :B i prefer the jp version of panic restaurant myself though, because the american character's giant gaping maw during jumps just creeps me the helllll out okay

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Justin!

You've never played Kid Dracula? I'm kind of surprised! Granted, the Famicom version never made it out of Japan, but I'm pretty sure the GameBoy kinda-sorta port did. Anyway, give it a try at some point!

RE: Pizza Pop -- one thing you should know about this one is that the rest of the game is far more colorful than it appears to be in this particular screenshot. Unfortunately, there are very few good screenshots of the game out there, and I was too lazy to take some myself, so I went with this one despite the fact that it isn't entirely indicative of the rest of the game.

Oh, and as for Panic Restaurant: Yeah, it is hard as hell. Because of that, I can understand why so many hate it. It's definitely a product of its time, though -- i.e., it's one of those hard-as-nails games that you literally have to play over and over and over again until you master it, and then it becomes quite fun.

Anyway, I've definitely played it over and over and over again and now I can get pretty far into it, although I've yet to beat it. Even if I couldn't get very far, though, I'd still appreciate/love the spritework :)

Bryan Ochalla said...

sharc: Oh, I was really implying that Gimmick was a Kirby rip-off. I was just saying that I can see where people might think that at first glance (esp. at first glance of the cover art).

Thanks for posting the link to the rare interview with the game's creator, BTW! I'll give it a look as soon as I've finished this comment.

As for Lickle: It doesn't surprise me that Taito was only the publisher for this game. It just doesn't look like a Taito-made game, does it? Regardless, I'm glad they had the smarts to release it, as it's a masterful game. Too bad it was released so late in the life of the Famicom/NES and basically tanked :|

I'm not entirely surprised you hate Pizza Pop! and Panic Restaurant, by the way. In fact, I'm guessing most people feel the way you do. I stand by my opinions of them, though. :)

As for Kid Dracula: I'm a bit surprised that you don't like this one. Why is that? Do you not like how it differs in terms of gameplay from the regular Castlevania games?

Adam said...

I always wanted to try Kid Dracula

Bryan Ochalla said...

Well, Adam, go find yourself the Kid Dracula ROM and cozy up to your favorite Famicom/NES emulator, I say! :)

sharc said...

ah, i figured, it's just a common allegation with gimmick, so might as well mention it.

kid dracula is a game i disliked more and more as it went on. the first stage is so great, with the cartoony treatment of castlevania staples and that snappy cover of "beginning." those PON! explosions!

the small irritation is its bad habit of giving you a new power, calling for its use constantly in the next stage, and then forgetting it exists. related is the larger issue where the level design throws stuff around in a way i would describe as thoughtless, creating obstacles rather than teaching you anything.

i don't think there's a better example of what i'm getting at than the glass tube elevator, where you memorize a tediously long sequence of jumps and at the end all you've learned is how to get through this one particular setpiece because the skills acquired aren't really re-used in any significant way.

i also don't like any part of the coin gathering/charged shot/bonus round trifecta but that's another issue altogether.

let me know if your high opinion of panic restaurant survives the french fry enemies, by the way. :B mine sure didn't.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hello again, sharc :)

Ah, I understand both your positive and negative opinions of Kid Dracula now. I have to admit that I've never really thought of some of the things you brought up here. Of course, I haven't spent a TON of time with the game, so maybe that's why. (Also, I tend to be fairly lenient when it comes to games--as in, it takes a lot for one to turn me off completely.)

As for Panic Restaurant: Hmmm, honestly can't remember the french fry enemies. Which stage do they show up in? I've only made it to the fifth stage, so far, so maybe I haven't encountered them :|

sharc said...

i test game for a living so my tolerance for bullshit is measured in units usually reserved for subatomic particles

that said, while i've dropped a lot of games that bored me, i usually wind up finishing the ones that piss me off; i just don't look back too fondly on them.

the french fry machineguns show up in the very last stage, and they are a nightmare. the tougher segments with them and the final boss will be the cause of some wailing and gnashing of teeth, i can promise.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Ah, I'm not surprised the french fry guys show up in the last stage. Like I said, I've yet to get to that one. As for them and the final boss causing some wailing and gnashing of teeth: Well, the game's already caused loads of both (as has Pizza Pop!, by the way), and I'm still enjoy playing it now and then, so it'll be interesting to see if they cause *too much* wailing and gnashing of teeth or just a bit more than I've already experienced :P