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Predator - NES (1987)

by John Szczepaniak

Japanese Cover

Predator (NES)

Predator (NES)

There were two main strains of Predator game developed back in the day: one for European home computers like the C64, and the other by infamous film licensor Pack-in-Video, who developed an MSX2 and a NES version (apparently; some sources claim Klon developed them). We're focusing on the PiV games, specifically the NES release which is so horrible you can't help but wonder if it was intentional.

Considering that the Predator film (June 1987) was about a commando running around fighting an alien in a jungle, PiV could have easily gotten away simply with copying the original arcade Contra (February 1987). All film licences take liberties with the source material, so it wouldn't have mattered that later levels took place inside military bases and alien nests. In fact they could have just copied the first level, over and over. Konami showed that muscles and guns in a jungle make for awesome action. It should have been easy.

Instead Predator on the NES is a mashed-up mess. The fact that Arnold is wearing pink hot pants and white go-go boots, plus has to fight enemies which include moving rocks and butterflies, can probably be forgiven since licence liberties are de rigueur. What's less acceptable is that he slides around like his boots are made of ice, and the fact that power-ups do more harm than good. By default you can only punch, but if you pick up the grenades you might as well reset, since they are worse than useless. Sometimes you get a machinegun or a laser, but these only last the level.

The game pretends to be clever by offering multiple branching pathways, so that you have to replay it four times over to see all of them, except that all of the routes consist of the same generic and infuriatingly difficult jungle and cave stages. The layouts are slightly different, but there's no point to the different paths. From start to finish every stage is abysmally designed, with tiny slippery platforms above bottomless pits and giant impassable barriers beset by endless waves of enemies. In fact even the developers lacked faith in their designs, since they included a suicide button for when you get trapped in impossible situations - yes, the game actually expects you to kill yourself if it gets stuck.

But those are the best bits. In the unlikely event you make it beyond stage 4 the game starts throwing "Big Levels" at you, which look like they were programmed using a ZX Spectrum. These are auto-scrolling areas with a broken conveyor belt for the ground and garish colour clashing. Arnie also takes up so much of the screen that it's near impossible to avoid the bubbles attacking him. These buggy levels look not only unfinished but as if they belonged to some other game entirely (Action 52 perhaps?) and were only stuck on at the last moment to quickly finish off development.

But you want to know what the biggest travesty is? It's that the MSX2 version looks similar but is actually fairly competent. It's an action adventure platformer with a selectable array of weapons, expansive stages to explore, and clever touches like if you fall down pits you don't die, but end up in a river which takes you to an earlier part of the stage. Some stages even try to look like Metroid. Plus Arnie is decked in appropriate military garb. How we ended up with two so disparate versions will forever remain a mystery.

Predator (NES)

Predator (NES)

Predator (MSX2)


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Tail of the Sun / Taiyo no Shippo (太陽のしっぽ) - PlayStation (1996)

by Elizabeth Bahm

American Cover

Tail of the Sun

Tail of the Sun

In the PSX's early days, Artdink released Aquanaut's Holiday, a "non-game" that attempted to present a non-linear, non-violent, open-world ocean experience. It's a nice idea, later more fully realized in Arika's Everblue and Endless Ocean series, but in the first year of the PSX, "ocean exploration" meant a flat blue space with a blocky, foggy sea floor and somewhat mystifying controls. Tail of the Sun, an uncategorizable hybrid of caveman sim and open-world adventure offers up an only slightly more game-like experience.

It's conceptually interesting - offering up a huge, completely open map with day/night and weather cycles, not to mention hidden secrets like aliens and stone circles. Your goal in this big, primal world centers on eating and hunting to build up stats and advance your tribe, until you can take down enough mammoths to build a tower to the sun out of their tusks. The open map is one of Tail of the Sun's more redeeming qualities. Neither the deepest ocean nor the highest mountain are off-limits, but the dangers in your way emerge more from the controls than the untamed land. Movement is awkward overall - the run button brings you gradually up to speed and skids to a lengthy stop when released. Your character tends to stick directly to the angle of a slope instead of standing upright on inclines. Swimming is rarely successful, usually resulting in a gravity-defying leap peaking in a peculiar, arms-flailing float.

To add to the problem, your caveperson needs sleep and sets their own schedule about it. These naps can occur at anytime, frequently sending you sliding down mountains and slopes with fatal results. You can eventually wake with some button mashing, but that only makes your character more likely to sleep again sooner. Hunting is just as problematic, pitting your loose controls and fixed behind-the-back camera view against animals that frequently outrun and outmaneuver you. Your tribe's advancement unlocks better weapons, but they don't help with these basic frustrations. That advancement takes place through eating food items that give varying boosts to stats like culture or swimming ability. Charmingly, these food items are anachronistic Japanese sweets. Less charmingly, the shapes of these cookies are completely removed from the game's visual representations of stats: a green leaf shape boosts your speed, while a red one affects your strength. Trying to mentally catalogue random bakery shapes and hoping your character won't have another inopportune lapse into narcolepsy exemplify the aggressively idiosyncratic style that moves Tail of the Sun from an interesting experiment to a hair-pulling nonsense for most players.

It's this style that makes the game's myriad broken aspects almost seem intentional - when a game opens with an awful/funny name entry screen, you can feel the stubborn ambitions of the developer in every element. That screen isn't just hideous, it's hideous for the sake of conveying the game's reckless attention to the "wild, free, simple" style its title screen espouses. The music carries the same offbeat feel with lo-fi ambient sounds that feel simultaneously out-of-place and just right for the setting.

And yet the potential artistic experience the game aspires to never really works because the game itself barely works. It's endlessly memorable and even rather charming in short bursts or the right circumstances - when you fall asleep in the middle of an open field, the wheeling, stylized night sky effect may bring a smile to your face. When it interrupts a key hunting trip, the game ascends into the ranks of unforgettable kusoge-dom.

Tail of the Sun

Tail of the Sun

Tail of the Sun


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The Typing of the Dead (ザ・タイピング・オブ・ザ・デッド) - Arcade / Dreamcast / Windows / Macintosh / PlayStation 2 (1999)

by Sam Derboo

American Dreamcast Cover

The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast)

The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast)

The Sega Dreamcast was a dream console for peripheral fetishists. Arcade fans could play more faithful convertions of their coin-op favourites than ever before, all with the proper controllers, be it maracas, fishing rods, or dual joysticks. And then there was the mouse and keyboard. Initially created for use with the Dreamcast internet capabilities and web browser, they also came in handy for traditionally PC games like first person shooters.

Games specifically designed for these devices on the Dreamcast, however, were rare, but Sega decided to adopt one of their beloved franchises to be played exclusively with the dream keyboard. One of the most popular games in their portfolio at the time was The House of the Dead 2, which, otherwise a fairly standard light gun shooter, entertained the masses with its incredible B-movie style presentation, intentionally(?) abysmal writing and the most awkward voice acting ever, where the actors often weren't even sure whether their lines were questions or exclamations. As if all that wasn't hilarious enough, some insane mind at Sega figured it would be a great idea to mix the campy splatterfest with a keyboard training program. To any normal CEO or project manager this must have sound absolutely ridiculous, but Sega just went with it.

The Typing of the Dead is basically just The House of the Dead 2. Even the title screen just replaces "House" with "Typing" in an unfitting font color. All the stages, cutscenes and silly dialogue remain intact, only the agents don't carry their guns, but battery powered dreamcasts on their backs with the keyboard strapped around their necks! (One feels almost inclined to forget all standards for decent writing and put some more exclamation marks behind that sentence. The hardware, by the way, got properly replaced in the PS2 version.) In consequence, the player, too, is using the keyboard to kill the legions of undead abominations with words, not even necessarily ones like "Drop dead" or "Headshot", but more often in the reigns of "Skimpy undies" or "Mile high smile".

Of course, the pacing of the game has been adjusted to better support the new input method and a few sections are simplified, but all major elements of the main game made the transition successfully. Never again will you find a game where you can save victims with a "Made in USA" or shoot off a fiend's face by "Playing chess face to face". There's even some new bonus rounds where hordes of zombies all have to be killed with similarly sounding or particularly hard-to-type words.

The most formidable targets of ridicule are the bosses, though. The giant three-headed snake used to be one of the most threatening enemies in the original, here it is abused as a quiz show, where one only gets to "shoot" the head that shows the right answer. The chainsaw-wielding leatherhead lookalike is also hardly more dignified by the short narratives about bedwetting and farting in elevators that accompany his fight.

All this may sound stupid, but many actually consider this the best game in the House of the Dead series. Even as a keyboard trainer, it is quite competent. Each game starts with very simple words like "OK", but quickly expands to small phrases and even full sentences. When the player runs out of lives and has to use a credit, the tasks grow easier again. Besides the main game, there are also training missions that focus on speed or accuracy. What do we learn from this (besides typing better, that is)? Stupid ideas don't have to result in stupid games!

For lovers of obscurities, there is also a Japan-only, PC-only sequel based on The House of the Dead 3. English of the Dead is another variation for the DS, created to help Japanese gamers learn English.

The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast)

The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast)

The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast)


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Burn: Cycle - Windows / Macintosh / CDi (1999)

by John Szczepaniak

European Cover

Burn: Cycle

Burn: Cycle

Generally regarded as one of, if not the best, games on the Philips CDi, Burn: Cycle is a combination of a puzzle game and an FMV game, as was the style at the time, similar to the likes of The Daedalus Encounter. It has developed a degree of reverence among retro fans, but in reality, it's fairly terrible. Many would criticise its extreme slowness, the cumbersome interface, sudden instant deaths, unintuitive structure and crude CG backgrounds, citing them all as reasons for kusoge status. While valid these points don't really make it kusoge, since the genre by definition is slow and a lot of its other problems are endemic to the era and hardware (it's especially cumbersome on CDi). Actually, despite being technically terrible Burn: Cycle is at least enjoyable.

No, the kusoge title is because it's completely batshit insane. Which is precisely why we love it.

For a game portraying a cyberpunk future it takes itself extremely seriously, but without any of the suspension-of-disbelief that examples such as Blade Runner or Deus Ex achieve. Characters wear clothes which are more like embarrassing exaggerations of the worst the 1990s had to offer, while everyone tries to sound hip spouting pre-internet phrases which mean nothing - oh and did we mention the Z grade overacting throughout? "When God was crapping stupidity he dropped a shitload on you!"

The kitsch monologues of Sol Cutter, the protagonist, make for surreal listening as he prattles on about sharpies having him for every Nigerian Rand he's got, new age churches run by a golden Buddha, and Puerto Rican pharmaceutical smugglers clashing with women who'd skin you alive in under two hours.

Some of the dialogue can be excused due to the era it was written in, but other equally bizarre things aren't as easily rationalised. The game contains several useless items you can buy, including pornography you can't view (titled: "Wet When Slippery"). At another point a security guard arbitrarily decides to go off with the first woman who winks at him - and of course she kills him. Next Cutter and female accomplice Gala are in his hotel room, which appears to have a minibar. Except instead of drinks it's filled with kinky bondage gear. As she examines some form of harness he blurts out: "Hey, don't touch those, I get charged for what I use!" They throw badly-acted quips back and forth, but any attempt at sexual tension between the two comes across as cringingly awkward, like a cheap high-school theatrics performance. Later still it gets philosophical, featuring quasi-religious iconography and mad babbling from its actors while Cutter delves inside his own mind.

With modern developers happy to regurgitate the same well-worn tropes and cliches, Burn: Cycle could be commended for featuring the above wacky and unique situations. Except the story which holds them together doesn't really make any sense. Cutter has hacked into and stolen corporate datafiles, resulting in the eponymous Burn: Cycle, a computer virus inside his brain which gives him two hours to live. But after this introductory sequence is a string of poorly written characters who are killed off, introduced, disposed of and double-crossed with haphazard abandon - on several occasions you won't know how or why he knows someone, or indeed who he's even talking to. Somehow it all involves digital copies of people's brains.

In a way this all lends proceedings a kind of schizophrenic charm, like the debut work of an untrained writer or the book report of a kid high on pixie stix. Speaking of schizophrenic, towards the game's end there's a gender bending moment when Cutter gets permanently turned into a woman, complete with an actor/actress change, since outside of the Televerse (internet) there's a moustachioed man cutting the fingers off his original body. Afterwards said antagonist turns his back on female Cutter (why exactly?) despite her pointing a gun at him. Obviously he gets shot. Before you've time to comprehend what just happened the game reaches its weird conclusion, with Cutter keen to test out her new anatomy.

Burn: Cycle is a functionally bad game, but for sheer lunatic absurdity it's elevated beyond the sum of its parts and proves compelling (like all kusoge should be). It's just not something you want to play with anyone in earshot.

Burn: Cycle

Burn: Cycle

Burn: Cycle


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