Loriciels was a French video game developer started in 1983 by Marc Bayle and Laurent Weill and later on joined by Philippe Seban. They started their days on the Oric-1 home computer (which they intergrated into their name, L ORIC iel) where they found fame and fortune producing some of the highest quality games to be found on that system, such as L' Aigle D'Or (Golden Eagle) and Le Diamant de l'Île Maudite (The Diamond of Cursed Island). With this success the company became at one point France's biggest video game developer and released a seemingly never ending stream of games on the various systems available during the '80s. Famed French designer Eric Chahi had his start in Loriciel with Infernal Runner before he would later go on to design Another World. When the Atari ST and Amiga rolled around, Loriciels was ready to further establish themselves as a game power house, and started development on games on a much more ambitious scale. The most famous of these outside of Europe are Panza Kick Boxing, which was released on most home consoles as Best of the Best Championship Karate, and Space Racer. One game however would stand out from their catalog and become their most remembered title: Jim Power.
Are these games any good you might ask? Well, not really. In fact they are all too hard and frustrating both visually and technically. It seems Loriciel would try again and again to perfect the gameplay but when you're dealing with something as manly as a man called Power, it's hard to live up to that goal. There is a highlight to these games though, and a major one at that. All games are scored by legendary game music composer Chris Hülsbeck and it's probably one of his best works, which says a lot considering the man's amazing body of work. Jim Power traveled all over the place and can be found on both famous and obscure consoles, so let's take a look at them all.
The first title to be released in the series was Jim Power In Mutant Planet. The story and origin of Power changes with seemingly every version of the game, but here in the original the story goes something like this: You are Jim Power who is described in the manual as "A man of all dangers". Power is the chief of the Special Warfare Unit for the Security of President Halley (S.W.U.S.P.H). He is an unrivaled sharpshooter and the best detective in S.W.U.S.P.H. When the evil mutant devil Vulkhor kidnaps President Halley's daughter Samantha, he sends the president a multi sensorial telepathic message; Give him the Ultimate Weapon within 24 hours or else he'll turn her into a mutant. The only hope to save her is Jim Power. Vulkhor has taken her to the Mutant Planet, a world of evil located 538 million light-years away from Earth. With the help of an astromagnetic teleportation device Jim travels that distance in mere seconds, and here your adventure begins.
It might be a stretch to critique the storyline of a game released during the early '90s, but oh my goodness gracious. The story reads like something out a elementary school writing class project where kids just let their vibrant yet underdeveloped imagination run wild. The story is only told through the 700 word long tale found in the manual and even though every character is named and "fully developed" there, the actual game only makes mention of Samantha, making it probably the most redundant backstory ever written. But what about Jim Power? Who is this mysterious hero and how worthy is he of the last name Power? Well take a look:
Man, would you look at that. Awesome shades, matching green cap and shorts, sweet utility belt, ripped to the bone and a mean laser gun. He looks like Keanu Reeves if he was cast in Kindergarten Cop 2: Boy Scout Bout. I say we give the designer Guillaume Dubail a medal cause there is no way anyone will ever surpass this character design. He is quite possibly the definition of a real man. I'm guessing since this game was the only one Loriciel actively pushed in the American market that this is the European take on an American hero. I'm not an American but if I was, I'd be damn proud of that.
The game's selling points when released was its technical achievements. For its time it actually does boost some very impressive technical aspects, the backgrounds are quite colorful and detailed, the music as mentioned earlier is absolutely amazing and most of all according to the box, the game has 12 layers of parallax scrolling. But sadly for Loriciel the main selling point is probably its biggest problem. You see each layer scrolls in different ways and directions as Power runs across screen. The foreground will remain stationary, while the background will go in the opposite direction as the way you are running at different speed and pace, leading to some amazingly confusing parts. A lot of the game takes place on bouncing platforms at high speed, so imagine concentrating on Power who goes up and down at a certain tempo while the background goes in the opposite rhythm and direction. It's like if I decide to go out today and set fire to 12 houses in 2 hours without leaving any trace or getting caught and actually accomplish doing so. It's technically impressive that I managed to do that, but it can be argued that I didn't do society much good doing so. That same way, the parallax scrolling doesn't help the game, it actually damages it by guaranteeing you a headache within the first few minutes of playing.
Besides the scrolling killing you mentally, the game itself will kill Power at every turn. The game is unacceptably hard and there are many reasons to this. First of is enemy placement, they pop up out of nowhere at 300mph running towards you and while they often take 5-6 hits with your gun, Power dies at the slightest touch of any enemy or their projectiles. It works much the same as Ghosts 'n Goblins where our hero is running through a field killing baddies from all angles out of nowhere and upgrading his weapon. Power can pick up upgrades for his laser gun and bombs which to its credit does actually give you quite an increase in strength and speed, but like Arthur in Ghosts 'n Goblins you can only shoot straight ahead even though enemies will most often be above or below you. Rarely do they come straight ahead. You also have to beat the clock and look for time extensions and keys to open gates but for the most part you'll be so focused on just staying alive that you'll overlook the keys which more than often blend into the scenery because of similar colors. When you die however, Power is invincible for a good 30 seconds and that can be useful to just run over the spikes and enemies. You can also pick up an invincibility item but this only lasts 5 seconds and will get you killed.
But the biggest problem Power faces is his own jump. Jumping in this game is one of the most frustrating tasks in video game history and when you are playing a platformer with bad jumping, you know you got some trouble ahead. The physics of his jump are so messed up that you'll rarely make the smallest of jumps. His rise to the sky is so slow and low while the downfall comes so fast and sudden that every time you jump it's the most heart pounding and intense moment of your life. Even when you make these jumps it's by so little and you'll often wonder how you even made it landing on the very edge of the platform.
The game is 5 stages long and separated by 2 styles of gameplay. Side scrolling platformer and horizontal shooter. At the end of each level you will fight a big boss which most likely will kill you before you even realize what you're supposed to be hitting. Despite only being 5 levels the side scrolling stages are so long and difficult with more than one miniboss scattered throughout. The first level alone takes up towards 10 minutes to beat if you are running through it. The shooter stages however are around a minute in length and will suddenly just go black and transport you to a boss battle, and are fairly easy to beat.
There is something to be said about the art direction and originality of this game. There is non. First off the enemies have no consistency and are all a random mess of Roman centurions, Egyptian cats, flying mushrooms and pelvis pushing bald men. It also steals from a lot of other games, most notably Ghosts 'n Goblins as mentioned. The scenery is similar, the basic storyline is the same and the final boss is pretty much identical to that found in Ghosts 'n Goblins. The only all original and inspired part of this game, is the music which is incredible in every way. High energy rock with glorious Amiga guitar samples with Stage 3 having an exceptionally good sound with a strange but suitable emotional melody. Hülsbeck really went to town with this score, combining his by now trademark heroic motifs with Japanese game music inspirations which was highly unusual at the time and even today, is only found in a few composers like Jake Kaufman of WayForward. Some songs have very strong similarities to that of Ys, but whether this is intentional or a coincidence is hard to say. As amazing as the classic Turrican soundtrack is, I find Jim Power to be the best of Hülsbeck's incredible catalog. Apart from the music, there's little new and original to be found in this game, hell even when I look at the box art I see something very familiar...
Jim Power in Mutant Planet was ported to many systems eventually. The Amstrad CPC version has very choppy scrolling, virtually no music which alone renders the game completely unplayable, even more unresponsive control and worst of all, when you die you go all the way back to the beginning. The Atari ST version is strangely the best out of the Mutant Planet series. Because of the system limitation, the game has been simplified and therefore is manageable. The jumping is much more reliable this time and the music is awesome with 8bit rendition of the already amazing score. For some strange unknown reason, the game was released on the PC Engine CD in Japan. This version is more or less identical to the Amiga version down to the awful controls, but adds a new 6 minute intro detailing the story. They brought Hülsbeck back to arrange the soundtrack making this the highest quality version of the soundtrack, and well worth tracking down simply for the redbook audio which again has some very similar sounds to Ys Book 1 and 2 on the same system.
This game was first released on the SNES in 1993. In ways it can be described as a re-imagining or remake of Jim Power, though I don't know why they would do that since the first story was such a well written executed game. As the title alludes to, this game sports some "3D" features. Published by Electro Brain who previously had ported Loriciel's Best of the Best over to Genesis and SNES. The game came packaged with stereoscopic Nuoptix 3D glasses as opposed to red/blue anaglyph glasses. This is achieved by having the background and foreground always moving, which means by the slightest movement, the slightest touch of the d-pad, the whole entire screen moves in different directions. With or without glasses, this game will make you motion sick.
The story has changed a bit since the last time we met Jim. This time the supernatural alien Vaprak is threatening to destroy the earth. Earth is the last planet that stands between him and a dimensional vortex that leads up to the fifth and last dimension. If Vaprak succeeds in his evil plans he will open a gateway to his own species along with a strange mutating effect that his dimension has on all organic life forms. Since his forces are too strong for a full on army attack, the special forces must send someone to slip past his Omni-eye scanners and assassinate him before it is too late. The only man brave and strong enough for this job is you:
Dolph Lundgren? As you can see, Jim has gone through some cosmetic changes on his journey over to the SNES. While his abilities remain the same, the game sports all new animations and much more fluent controls than the previous games. Loriciel balanced this added sense of control and quality by ramping up the difficulty tenfold.
Enemies are now twice as fast and twice as many. From the very first moment you start playing and meet enemies, they'll be charging at you so fast that your reflex skills better be at the height of their game. The jumping physics are no longer a problem, but the moving platforms definitely are. They now move so fast and with the insane scrolling mechanics in the background it'll make some jumps incredibly hard to maneuver. You start out with 3 lives and 3 continues which doesn't last you very long either. When you lose a life you are sent back a few steps and gain a few seconds of invincibility and when you die completely, you gotta restart the level, which as usual is puzzlingly long.
The level layouts borrow a bit from Mutant Planet but are in most cases changed up significantly and extended. There is a new map screen which again looks like something out of Ghosts 'n Goblins and they also added a new gameplay style for added value and as always with Jim Power, there's something strangely familiar with this type of play too. The new overhead stages are almost directly lifted from Contra III and controls much the same. It even includes the whirlwinds and some of the same enemies that you would find in Contra III! The biggest difference is that you can actually jump during these overhead segments but it's not easy to control that jump. They really got carried away with this mode because just when you think you are done and the screen fades out you realize that there's different floors rather than the end of that stage. I remember always wishing more games would have overhead stages like in Contra, but after playing this, I've had enough of them to say the least.
The horizontal shooter stages makes a return here looking much different from how it was in the prequel. In Mutant Planet you control Jim in a tin man rocketeer suit while here you control a space ship and fly through cavern bio infested caverns like in Life Force. The graphics are still a bit inconsistent but has seen a major face lift. Though most enemies remain the same in design they look much more detailed and rich in this game thanks to the SNES's superior color palette. Especially during the new space ship stages you'll see some really nice looking backgrounds which has a very Marvel comic book look to it in terms of color use and shadowing.
The soundtrack is awesome as expected and features Chris Hülsbeck rocking the SNES sound chip like non other. Apart from the arrangements of older tracks from the first game, there's all new tracks for the overhead stages and some other segments. The arrangements sounds great and the new tracks are just as good as the old classics. The samples used is a blend of what you heard in Super Turrican and also the guitar samples from Maximum Carnage. With the new art style, the music seems to fit more and gets an extra boost from that.
A short time after the SNES release, the game was ported to DOS. This game has some notable differences from the SNES version. While the graphic style and story remain the same, it has increased resolution and better overall graphics with more black outlines to enhance the comic book look. Because the overhead stages in the SNES game uses Mode 7 extensively to rotate the stage itself when Jim turns around, they have been changed in the DOS version so that the stage remains static and your sprite controls more like in Sega's Alien Syndrome. Before each stage you also get a CGI render of the stage you about to embark on. There's also a bar on the left side of the screen that shows your life count and inventory. The biggest addition to the DOS version is the lifebar however. Yes you now have a lifebar allowing you to be hit 3 times before you die. This makes such a huge difference to the gameplay like you wouldn't believe. Because of this revolutionary addition, this game is by far the best game of all Jim Power games produced and actually fully playable and dare I say fun and challenging. The only major drawback is the music which isn't as good as it is on the SNES.
Facing bankruptcy, Loriciel was forced to cancel almost all of their upcoming games in 1993. One of these titles was yet another Jim Power game, this time on the SEGA Genesis and called Jim Power: The Arcade Game.
The title can be a bit confusing. This isn't like with TMNT 2 where it was a port of an arcade game onto the home console system, but rather it refers to the game itself being more straight forward and emphasis on run and gun action. Due to the technical differences between SNES and Genesis, there was no way to do the Mode 7 effects as well as not being able to do the parallax scrolling on the level SNES could so Loriciel decided to yet again rebrand and retool the game. While the first stage is more or less the same as the other games, there are many additional shooter stages to make up for the loss of the overhead stages. Enemies are slower and fewer and the powerups have been scattered around the stage more evenly. Despite being most likely the easiest and therefore most fun Jim Power game to be, it was ironically not released due to financial problems.
The ROM was leaked onto the internet a few years ago in a fully playable state however and can be played through the use of an emulator. The game is seemingly near finished and the only unfinished work to be found is the music sadly. The game only has one music track, which is a FANTASTIC arrangement of the level 3 theme. The voice clips are surprisingly crisp for the Genesis, but there's only 2 of them that are recycled when you pick up various items.
There are a few bugs that can be found in the ROM. Platforms sometimes does not appear which makes progress impossible and the game can also reset itself while in between levels. For those who still wants to run through and check it out, you can go to the option menu and press A B and C at the same time to activate infinite lives and keys.
How did Loriciel get in touch with you? And what was the overall details they gave you when you first heard of the game?
There was a producer working at Loriciel who had heard my earlier works and specially Turrican 2 and he wanted to have a similar feel to the music for Jim Power. He somehow got hold of my phone number (we did not have email in those days) and called me up to talk about the project and what kind of style they were looking for.
Do you have any specific memories from the time when you composed it and your inspiration for the style of music?
In those days I listened to the music of a lot of Japanese action and arcade style games. We had a PC Engine (SuperGrafx), Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and a Nintendo Super Famicom (SNES) and a ton of games for them. I also listened to a lot of movie soundtracks. Inadvertently a melody from the Ys series must have slipped deep into my subconscious because one of the melodies of Jim Power turned out extremely similar, which was not on purpose.
What are your own thoughts on this soundtrack? How do you personally view it in comparison to your most well known works like Turrican?
For a while I actually personally liked my Jim Power compositions better than Turrican, maybe because they were newer at the time. I still think they are very strong pieces and at least as good as my work for Turrican.
How did you work with the PC Engine version? Did you arrange the songs on a synth and put the recordings on the CD format or did you actually work on the sound chip within the system?
The PC Engine version was as far as I know only released for PC Engine CD-Rom, so it was my first game music project in red book audio format. I produced the CD tracks in my professional audio studio, pretty much the same way as I did for my first 3 CD albums*.
Which system did you like working with the most? This particular soundtrack was ported to SNES, CPC, Atari-ST, DOS and PC Engine.
At the time, my favorite was still the Amiga, but the SNES gave me more channels to work with, so it's a close second. The most challenging which was also a lot of fun was probably the Atari-ST version.
The SEGA Genesis version was cancelled but eventually leaked to the internet. This leaked version contains 1 song which is the Forest theme. Do you remember if you finished more work for the SEGA version but it was just never implemented?
I actually don't remember anymore and I was surprised about hearing the song from the leaked version again. I still have to dive into my archives some day to find out if I actually converted more than one song. I remember from Mega Turrican that the Genesis was also very interesting to program in terms of sound with it's 6 channel FM synthesis, additional 4 channel PSG sound chip and our 2 software mixed sampling channels.
Finally, your thoughts and feelings on hearing the Jim Power music arranged by Yuzo Koshiro and performed by the WDR.
It was such an honor and a dream come true, since I am a big fan of Yuzo Koshiro and have been ever since I heard ActRaiser on the SNES when it came out. I had tears in my eyes when the WDR performed his beautiful arrangement of Jim Power.
* Hülsbeck's 3 first studio albums were Shades (1991), To Be On Top (1992) and Rainbows (1994)
Loriciel eventually went bankrupt in 1993 and re-branded under the name Virtual Studio. They managed to develop some Smurf games and computer adventure games, but would never again become the prolific developer they once was. Marc Boyle would later join tele communication company Framacom, while Laurent Well formed Visiware, which develops cellphone games. Jim Power as a game was quickly forgotten but its music is still remembered and loved by game music enthusiasts. In 2002 Fabian Del Priore made an arrangement included on the Immortal 2 cd set while in 2008, a symphonic tribute concert for Chris Hülsbeck called Symphonic Shades took place in Cologne, Germany. Yuzo Koshiro arranged the main theme to be performed during this event and was also in attendance. A CD of this concert was released in 2009 and got marvelous reviews for its astonishing production values and arrangements.
Special thanks to Chris Hülsbeck for his participation!