Friday, August 07, 2015

Shall We Do It Again? (Astro Rabby, Crush Roller, Mappy, Pac-Man, Puzzle Bobble and Tumble Pop)

If you were on Twitter last weekend, you may have noticed my mention that I spent a rather obscene amount of time playing old GameBoy and Game Gear titles on Saturday.

I also spent some time playing a couple of Neo Geo Pocket Color games--a fact I didn't mention on Twitter because, well, I ran out of characters.

Anyway, because I played so many of these "golden oldies," and because I so thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with them (two of them in particular), I thought I'd write up a second "Shall We Do It?" post for the week that focuses on those experiences.

Before I get to all of that, though, I want to make one thing clear: I played all of these retro games via emulation (thanks to my soft-modded Wii).

Yes, I own a couple of GameBoys, and I own a Game Gear, too. (No Neo Geo Pocket Color, though--at least not yet.) I also own copies of four of the six titles mentioned here. I was too lazy to get them out of their hiding places, though; plus, I didn't want to deal with the battery drama--so, I took the easy route and emulated them.

With all of that out of the way, here are a few, random thoughts on the GameBoy, Game Gear and Neo Geo Pocket Color carts--er, ROMs--that ruthlessly captured my attention this past weekend.

Astro Rabby (GameBoy)--Would you believe I've owned this Japan-only release from 1990 for some time now (over a year, if I were to guess), yet I'd only put a small handful of minutes into it before I fully acquainted myself with it a few days ago?

Er, yeah, I guess some of you would believe that based on my propensity to buy and then sit on games. (Not literally sit on them, of course.)

Whatever. That's not supposed to be the point here; what is supposed to be the point is that I'm now slapping myself across the face for taking so long to properly give this game a shot. It's actually quite a bit of fun--if you can overlook the totally lame "bonus rounds" that pop up every few stages.

As for why that is, well, try to imagine if someone had attempted to make something similar to Jumping Flash! for the GameBoy before the folks at Exact Co., Ltd. and Ultra Co., Ltd produced the beauty that launched shortly after the original PlayStation hit store shelves in Japan.

That's basically the gist of Astro Rabby, which puts you in the shoes (paws?) of a cyborg rabbit who, for some reason or other, is forced to hop through space in search of "power-up parts" while staying clear of evil frogs and bad octopi as well as keeping from plummeting into seemingly bottomless holes. This hopping-through-space action is depicted in a top-down fashion, by the way, which can make the titular hare's leaps kind of dicey from time to time, but after a few minutes it not only feels pretty natural but also feels pretty exhilarating.

Thankfully, it's OK to fail at the aforementioned bonus rounds, which boil down to a musical game of Concentration and are far more frustrating than my abbreviated description probably makes them sound. Still, I wish they were a bit more ... traditional in nature so I could enjoy the entirety of Astro Rabby and not just a good portion of it.

Crush Roller (Neo Geo Pocket Color)--I wrote about this colorful, portable take on the Pac-Man formula all the way back in 2013 (in a post titled, "It's Just a Little Crush Roller"), but haven't said a thing about it since.

That's a real shame, as Crush Roller is a treat. A tough, pull-your-hair-out-in-giant-clumps "treat" at times, but a treat nonetheless.

Unfortunately, although I became pretty skillful at playing this ADK-developed game the first time I gave it a go (I even made it all the way to the end credits, after some effort), this time around I found things quite a bit more trying.

Oh, well. Its paint-roads-while-desperarely-avoiding-Dragon-Quest-slime-like-enemies action still put a smile on my face--when it wasn't causing me to cuss at it under my breath, of course.

Mappy (Game Gear)--Here's another Japan-only handheld title that I've chatted about previously.

What prompted me to pick it up again this past weekend? I don't know, to tell you the truth. I guess I was just in the mood for a little classic, arcade-style, cat-and-mouse action.

Just in case I've never mentioned this before: the Game Gear port of Mappy--originally a Namco quarter-muncher--is top-notch. Everything about it is "correct," as the reviewer at Video Game Den used to like to say; plus, it's simply a blast to play.

So, if you've got a Game Gear and a wad of batteries (or an AC adapter, I guess), you could do far worse than buy a copy of this 1991 release and stick it in your system when you've got a couple of minutes to burn.

Pac-Man (Game Gear and Neo Geo Pocket Color)--I had such a great time revisiting the Game Gear port of Namco's Mappy that I decided to give a couple of the company's other portable takes on its old-school IPs a try, too. Specifically, I put a good few minutes into the Game Gear and Neo Geo Pocket Color iterations of Pac-Man.

Full disclosure: I'm not the world's biggest Pac-Man fan. I love Ms. Pan-Man and I love Pac-Man Championship Edition--I even love the version of Pac-Man Arrangement that's included in Pac-Man Collection for the GameBoy Advance. Still, I was curious to see how this pint-sized imagining of Namco's most iconic release stacks up to the version that still can be found in bowling alleys across the United States.

You know what? Both carts are pretty accurate renditions of the pellet-chomping action that first caught the world's attention back in 1980.

If I had to pick one over the other, I'd probably go with the NGPC port, as I think it's cool how it allows you to switch between a zoomed-in view that looks just like the arcade original (but doesn't let you see the whole play field) and a zoomed-out view that provides a kind of minimalist perspective on Pac-Man's shocking, neon-saturated world. (The latter is shown in the screenshot above, by the way.)

Don't get me wrong, the Game Gear offering's nice, too. Plus, its soundtrack (if this title can even be said to have such a thing) seems more accurate, so if you only can have a single on-the-go Pac-Man, there's absolutely nothing wrong with picking up the one that's playable on Sega's brick-sized handheld.

Puzzle Bobble (Game Gear)--Although my words in support of the Game Gear port of Pac-Man may seem less than convincing, you should not be able to say the same about my thoughts on that handheld's miniaturized version of Taito's Puzzle Bobble after you finishing reading through them.

Granted, I consider Puzzle Bobble on the Game Gear to be the best of all of that title's many portable iterations, so the above probably could go without saying.

What makes Puzzle Bobble GG (my name, not Taito's) such a praise-worthy effort? Well, it looks great, for starters, with character sprites that actually rival those found in the coin-munching original. Plus, it features that offering's infectious backing tunes and it also contains a wealth of content.

One last note about this rainbow-splashed puzzler: I focus almost entirely on its "VS" mode, which pits players against various Bubble Bobble enemies, whenever I boot it up.

Tumble Pop (GameBoy)--Hey, it only now hit me that all of the titles mentioned here, save for the one at the top of the post, are conversions of vintage arcade games. Huh.

Strangely, I've never played the original iteration of Tumble Pop, which was both made and published by Data East back in 1991. (This GameBoy "demake," of sorts, came out a year later.) I guess that's just as well, as it's allowed me to enjoy this black-and-white effort on its own merits.

Admittedly, Tumble Pop isn't going to win any awards for being the most glorious example of the single-screen platformer genre, but what it lacks in verve it makes up for in .... vacuum cleaners. Don't laugh; I really mean that. After all, how many games do you get to play these days--or have you ever gotten to play, for that matter--that feature protagonists who are packing super-powered hoovers?

There's more to Tumble Pop than sucking and blowing, mind you. It also showcases some surprisingly adorable enemy sprites (which cover the gamut from clowns to mummies to snowmen) and a toe-tapping soundtrack.

I would've done all I could to track down a copy of the Japanese GameBoy release of this sucker even if none of the above were true, though, due to its awesome cover art. Thankfully, I've found its graphics and especially its gameplay to be the definition of entertaining (if not completely delightful), so don't look for the delicious box, cartridge and instruction manual I'll share in an upcoming post to make their way onto eBay anytime soon.

See also: 'Shall We Do It? (Contact, The Legend of Kusakari, Penguin no Mondai: Saikyou Penguin Densetsu! and Rhythm Tengoku: The Best Plus)'

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