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Bird Week (バード・ウィーク) - Famicom (1986)

by Nick Zverloff

Cover

Bird Week

Bird Week

Developed by Lenar, the awkwardly titled Bird Week has a very strange concept. You live the life of a bird named Mommy and feed your baby birds so that they can get the strength to leave the nest. Gameplay consists of avoiding hazards such as evil flying squirrels or giant black birds. You clear levels by catching butterflies in your beak and feeding them to your hungry offspring. If you take too long to feed one of your birdlings, it dies, gains a halo and flies upward, presumably to baby bird heaven. Nature sure is harsh! However, the cruelty is lessened by the fact that it's immediately replaced by a new bird.

While most birds would be defenseless against many of the perils in Bird Week, Mommy is smart enough to know how to defeat them. She can lift up a giant mushroom with her very weak looking talons and drop it on enemies to kill them. While it's fun to drop mushrooms on squirrels, if you take too long, the baby birds will starve, putting pressure in an otherwise incredibly easy game. There are also snails that you can pick up to stop time, which makes sense in an adventure-game-lateral-thinking kind of way.

There are 36 levels, but there are really 999, as the game loops until it crashes. All of them play the same, save for minor backdrop changes that occur every so often to represet the change in seasons (though winter is strangely missing). A few slightly different enemies come up here and there, and later on you have to feed more baby birds, but it's not enough to dramatically alter the gameplay beyond the first level. Every so often there's a bonus game, but it's over before you know it. Once you've seen one level, you've seen them all, so playing the game to completion would be a task reserved only for people with far too much time on their hands. It's not like there's even any clever scoring mechanics or difficulty spikes to keep things interesting.

While there are worse games for the Famicom (far, far, far, worse), Bird Week is easily one of the most inane and repetitive. Given its simplicity it's clearly meant for kids, but it's the sort that talks down to them by assuming they just like cute birds. It doesn't help that most levels use the same theme song that only lasts about fifteen seconds and loops over and over maddeningly. The controls are also pretty stiff and unresponsive, though that was pretty normal for most early NES games.

Incidentally, "Bird Week" (usually known as "aichou shuukan") is an official designation in Japan, beginning on May 10th, to celebrate the the local official bird. The developer, Lenar, ended up making more games, including a strategy game involving Napoleon called Napoleon Senki and a cartoonish wild west Super Famicom RPG called Gunple: Gunman's Proof before quietly folding.

Bird Week

Bird Week


Perfect Weapon / Body Hazard (ボディハザード) - PlayStation / IBM PC (1996)

by Kurt Kalata

American Cover

Perfect Weapon

Perfect Weapon

In this wretch PSOne title from Gray Matter Interactive, you are Captain Blake Hunter, apparently the eponymous Perfect Weapon, but if the introduction is any indication, you're actually a pretty awful at living up to that title. One day, after a right old boxing match, you are sucker punched by some random guy and whisked away to an ice planet, leaving yourself to fight through bad guys, pick up spinning health icons, and fight through more bad guys. These bad guys include wolves, cat people and things which may be anthropomorphic ants. It's not entirely clear. Fist fighting fourlegged creatures, indeed, looks ridiculous.

Beat-em-ups never needed much of a proper story, but then again, this isn't a typical belt scroller - it's actually set up like Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil, with static computer renders as backgrounds, polygonal characters, and the ever-dreaded tank controls. For a game entirely focused on melee combat, this is the worst concept imaginable. All of the four face buttons on the PSOne controller are used for various attacks, as well as the L1 and R1 button for ducking and jumping, so in theory there are a lot of moves. But nothing in this game works. Absolutely nothing. Most of the time in combat will be spent with your back facing the bad guys because you are too slow to turn around. The rest of the time you'll be flailing wildly as you try, ever so desperately, for every one of your attacks to hit something. The camera is always so zoomed out so you can never actually see what you're supposed to be hitting or avoiding, and it will, without fail, take an inadequate camera perspective and then make it worse. The fact that the player in the demo routinely gets the shit kicked out of him is telling.

You actually won't even be spending most of your time fighting though. There's also "exploration", which means stumbling around incoherently, with a map that does everything possible to obfuscate where you're supposed to be going. The controls here, too, are deadful. Your character will insist on taking two full steps everytime you press forward. Sometimes he'll run when you hold down the X button - most of the time he'll just ignore you. In fact, most of the time he'll just stumble around and constantly mutter "No way!", his insistent response that you've displeased him in some manner, because he's gotten himself stuck in a tiny piece of scenery that you can't actually see. There are times where you need to jump over obstacles, but given the terrible perspective, it's never entirely clear where these are until your character does (or does not, if he feels like it) jump. And since you're on an ice planet, your health is also constantly draining. There are constant health pick-ups you can use at any time, but they never seem enough to overcome this artificial barrier in a game where artificial barriers are at every button press.

Also, pay attention to the loading screen bar. It saunters back and forth, like it's pondering whether it should even bother sparing the electricity to deliver this game to the screen. If only, like the Dreamcast claimed, the PlayStation were thinking, because it probably wouldn't approve of its CPU being wasted like this. For some reason it's ended up on the PSN, should you wish to subject yourself to it.

Perfect Weapon

Perfect Weapon


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Corpse Killer - Sega CD 32X / Saturn / 3DO / PC / Mac (1994)

by Christopher J. Snelgrove

32X Cover

Saturn Cover

Corpse Killer

Corpse Killer is another largely insufferable FMV game from the creative Digital Pictures team, who were nothing if not prolific. The most appealing feature of this game is, by far, the storytelling. It's a low-grade B-horror movie, and the cast seem entirely aware of it, which only adds to the charm. As a lowly army lieutenant sent in by the U.S. Pentagon, your mission is simple: infiltrate an island of the undead, rescue your superiors, and stop a psychopathic mad scientist named Dr. Elgin Hellman, played by the delightfully crazy, and sadly late, Vincent Schiavelli. The scenes starring Hellman are a pure delight. Schiavelli is off the rails here, and revels in playing one absolutely insane man. After creating Project Manpower for the military, a brilliant idea to fill the barracks of the Army using the ranks of the undead, he went AWOL, and started making an undead army for his own use, supposedly to conquer the world. Previous attempts at capturing Hellman have gone poorly, since the Lieutenant's entire squad are being held hostage on 'Cayman Noir' island. Unfortunately for the Lieutenant, he gets bit by a zombie soon upon arrival, which leaves him infected with the poison that will soon make him one of them.

Fortunately, he's got a rad dude named Winston Croft to help him out, who puts on one of the more hilarious Jamaican accents imaginable. (His actor might be a native, it's hard to tell.) Winston puts his familiarity with voodoo rites to not only create Datura Plant antidote to keep the Lieutenant alive, but also to predict the outcomes of the future, in limited doses, using a plant of bones. What does Winston want in return? Help finding lost gold to buy a Hummer. That's about it. You're also accompanied by a intrepid reporter named Julie, who's out to make a scoop by exposing Project Manpower and also being the obligatory flirt. Beyond her charming dialogue, she's largely an inoffensive(and useless) character, naturally put on display into a bikini after the player completes the game. The dynamic between Winston and Julie, especially their ongoing tug-of-war over the player and his zombie slaying skills, is one of the more amusing things to watch.

Oh right, there's gameplay too, or what passes for it. From the hub, the player can choose to either take on the main quest, or prepare by doing side quests for Julie and Winston, or 'grinding' for Datura and AP bullets, both kept in limited supply. Normal bullets are unlimited, but they won't harm the Lieutenant's zombified friends, or certain high-grade undead. Datura mixed with APs are the best bet, since they do the most damage. Once the stages begin, the screen scrolls from left to right, and the player just has to kill everything in sight. There are different 'types' of zomibes, such as the Serial Killers, 'Deadboyz'(ex-gang members), and the 'Electroposse': 'Electrocuted mass murderers. where do they dig these guys up?!' Beyond visual differences, they all attack exactly the same. Most zombies fall to a single bullet, but there's certain elite zombies that only die to AP/Datura bullets, and then the black/white glowing zombies that either harm the player or kill everything on screen, depending on the timing used when killing them.

That's really all there is to the game, beside the 'boss fights' with the captured soldiers, who run much faster, do more damage, and charge directly at the player. After taking enough damage, the stage ends, and Winston brings them back with Datura potion. Julie and Winston have two quests each, which mostly just consist of a single level. Julie's stages reward the player with some backstory about Project Manpower, and Winston's just allow him to revel in finding large stashes of lost Caribbean pirate gold. In addition to stages, the hub map also lets the player view assorted cinemas, mostly backstory about the plot, as well as Winston's predictions, and hints on gameplay. The scenes starring Hellman are always the highlight. The primary objective is storming Hellman's fortress, which has to be done four times: each requiring the player to rescue one of the Lieutenant's lost comrades, ranging from low-ranked soldiers to the Captain. Each mission gets harder, with more and more hordes of undead, and the zombified soldiers requiring more Datura bullets to bring down. On occasion, after clearing the main stage, the player has to defend the local graveyard: if the player fails, they have to do a zombie-filled stage, and likely take lots of damage in the process.

The differences between the original releases and the enhanced Saturn version go a ways towards making the game more playable, but not by much. (There are also 3DO and PC/MAC versions, which are based off the Sega CD original, though they have better video.) Called the "Graveyard Edition" (and boasting to be one of the top 20 games of the year, according to someone), the gameplay is made full screen, which is always a big help. The speed of the levels scrolling is faster, but the zombies also move faster to make up for it. There's also 'full screen' zombies, which really just amounts to a giant face filling the screen, which takes up entirely too many bullets to get rid of. There's also occasional power ups which trickle down during stages, which either give the player more health, more AP bullets, or even harm him. After clearing all four fortress stages, the player then has to take on 'Hellman HQ'. A difficult level with a fairly dull final fight; just a giant face spitting out an endless array of zombies, displaying Hellman's face decaying as the fight goes on, until he drops dead.

If it was just the gameplay, this would be a total waste, a completely forgettable light-gun-shooter-without-the-light-gun which can be extremely repetitive at best. Factor in the campy acting and hilarious plot, though and it becomes a morbidly amusing keeper.

Corpse Killer

Corpse Killer

Corpse Killer

Corpse Killer


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Utsurun Desu.: Kawauso Hawaii e Iku (伝染るんです。 かわうそハワイへ行く) - Famicom (1991)

by Kurt Kalata

Cover

Utsurun Desu.

Utsurun Desu.

Utsurun Desu. was a gag manga running for about a decade, from 1984 to 1994. As one of those silly four panel comics, its shtick revolved more or less around total nonsense, but it's been popular enough for it to be referenced in tons of anime and manga since. Takara released a Famicom game based on the property in 1991, and keeping in the spirit of the comic, it's simultaneously random and absurd. You control Kawauso, an otter-thing, as he attempts to take a trip to Hawaii. He quickly ends up getting sidetracked, eventually ending up in all sorts of places that aren't Hawaii, including the South Pole, the Amazon jungle, and Pluto.

When you first boot it up, you're presented with an off-frame title screen, suggesting that there's something wrong with the cartridge. But no - it's just a fake. Once you actually begin the game, you're presented with a pit of spikes that looks far too large to jump over. That is, until you take a leap of faith and realize that you can actually walk on the mountains in the background. On the next screen, an arrow points straight into an impassable wall. In many ways, it's the predcessor to Sega's 2009 WiiWare game Pole's Great Adventure.

The enemies are silly. One includes a book (which actually has "hon", the word for book, written on it, if weren't clear) that attacks with a mix of Japanese characters and gibberish. There are random people jumping rope. You'll also find totally nude streakers, all of whom are killed with an arrow from off screen. At one point you'll fight a Superman rip-off, except it appears he has a noticeable erection. The final boss is a gigantic salaryman that takes up nearly 2/3rds of the entire screen.

Of course, the big problem with Utsurun Desu is that it's too busy trying to be clever rather than creating anything remotely playable. Kawauso is slow, and he attacks by slapping, which barely has any reach. The levels are short and inconsequential, except when there's a gimmick behind them, like the repeating "lost forest" type maze in the second stage. (To bypass this, just put in a cheat code: on the title screen (the real one), press A, B, Select and Start at the same time. If you did it correctly, you'll see a black screen instead of the pre-level message. Repeatedly press B to select your level.) The game was released in 1991, so it looks nicer than most of the earlier-era Famicom kusoges, but beyond its humor, it's still an inane platformer with no real effort placed into the actual design.

Utsurun Desu.

Utsurun Desu.


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