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Noobow

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Noobow is deceptively great: it's a Game Boy game based on a license (the eponymous Noobow, mascot for a line of cute merchandise), but, ah, it's made by the masters at Irem, and it's a clever puzzle platformer. There are no HUD elements or any onscreen direction, but you're nevertheless encouraged to keep an eye on your surroundings when you come upon the next little roadblock. Various items are littered around the world, and it's your job to waddle Noobow over and use the item, either for obvious means, like creating a platform, or more trickier ones, all in the interests of completing a rather adorable goal at the end of a stage. The video shows all of this (and the nice music! Of course!), and you can see it's a prime example of unique design for the platform, and something rarely seen for years since.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Dancing Eyes

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Dancing Eyes (Namco, 1996)

Gratuitous titillation seems to be the M.O. of the Japanese game industry these days, at least if you go by the stereotypes. But there's a touch of truth to it, as the number of ways you can ogle cartoon girls in games is larger than ever. But when it came to out-and-out pandering, Namco was ahead of the pack. In 1996, using their expertise in 3D polygonal graphics, they produced the arcade action game Dancing Eyes (no relation to the Gary Stewart song... probably).

Namco recently announced a remake of Dancing Eyes, which is, so far, a Japan-only game for the PS3. But there's perhaps no better time for it to appear, given what I said at the start. In it, you control a cute little monkey, running along a grid that's laid over some surface that needs to be broken away, be it a schoolgirl's uniform, a magician's box, or a tree stump with mischievous twins inside.

Most of the time, though, it's going to be women whom you must disrobe by clearing the panels on the grid. You do this by holding the action button to set down a peg, then run along the grid trying to complete a whole shape while avoiding the enemies honing in on you. You don't have to connect the ends -- as long as you complete a whole shape, you can watch it get cleared away. Your "reward" for beating the stage is to (typically) watch the model prance around in her skivvies or otherwise play around with the "set" she's on.

On the surface, Dancing Eyes is not original -- plenty of other girlie arcade games, like the Gals Panic series, employed a variation of Qix's gameplay to get the player to slowly reveal a picture of a scantily-clad woman. But Dancing Eyes was the only such game to use real-time polygons, and Namco used that to their advantage by letting you walk all around the model as you cleared the grid. And in some cases, you can see the girls "breathing" as they patiently stand there waiting for their clothes to be destroyed. Yeah, well... that's worth a multi-page psychology paper right there, but nonetheless, it was one of the game's unique selling points. In the context of 1996, the game also looks amazing. It makes you wonder what kind of HD embarrassment the remake will bring!

Despite the groan-worthy sexism going on, Dancing Eyes doesn't really take itself seriously. As soon as the third stage, the game starts taking an absurd turn as it introduces cows and aliens. It shows that if you take out the suggestive material, you can still have a fairly fun game on your hands. Of course, it wouldn't have nearly the same appeal, would it? And it wouldn't be getting so much attention, both back then and now with the announcement of the remake. And as a matter of fact, there's plenty of eye candy for everybody...

See? It's inclusive, and totally realistic, to boot!

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Snow Bros. 2

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves (Hanafram, 1994)

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Maybe you remember Snow Bros. It was most prominent as an NES game published by Capcom, but it started as an arcade game by Toaplan, makers of many legendary shoot-em-ups. Wikipedia records Snow Bros. 2 as Toaplan's final game, which seems like an odd swan song after years of sweet-ass shooters -- all on the opposite end of the "cute" scale as Snow Bros., mind you -- but it really isn't so weird for a game with such a weird gameography to begin with.

If you don't remember Snow Bros., or are at least foggy about it, let me educate you: It's Bubble Bobble where the screen moves in the other direction (up). You use your attack to ensnare enemies and then use it to mow down the rest of the enemies, hopefully creating an explosion of fancy treats and trinkets before moving on to the next stage.

In the original Snow Bros., you were just the Snow Bros., Nick and Tom; a couple of identical, rotund, animated snowmen (snowboys?). In the sequel, you can choose from a variety of funny characters such as th--

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Oh son of a bitch.

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Augh!

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Why! Whyyy?!

Well, despite all of... that, Snow Bros. 2 is actually pretty normal. It's a nicely done sequel to the original, but it's not much more than that. The big thing is that you can play with four players simultaneously, but the game isn't too hard on your own, either. Like Bubble Bobble, it's basically an endurance run to see how many stages you can get through before you finally start to slip up or grow bored.

The characters have their own unique elemental properties -- they don't all shoot snow -- but their attacks don't change up the gameplay that much. Given that, I found it odd that you can all choose identical characters if you want. Again, Snow Bros. 2 isn't terrible, but it falls into the trap of a lot of other arcade sequels that were only "sequels" as a method to extend the longevity of the series, in the off chance that someone had a Snow Bros. game languishing in their arcade forever (certainly more common in Japan than anywhere).

In closing, a safety tip: don't rescue princesses near train tracks.

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Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Mirai Ninja

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Mirai Ninja (Namco, 1988)

I kind of like Mirai Ninja (lit. "Future Ninja"). The thing is, there isn't a ton about it that's actually likeable. On the surface, it's basically Namco's take on Taito's The Legend of Kage: You got your ninja guy, he moves real fast, he jumps real high, and the game has really spacious levels. But this one is set in the future, after all, so it's automatically more badass. It makes ancient history look like ancient history! And in every respect, the game is so unabashedly '80s it's hard to hate. For starters, the music is fitting with the theme, and could have easily been from your favorite sci-fi anime. That's thanks to Namco's master maestro Shinji Hosoe, who did the music for almost every late '80s-early '90s Namco game you can think of, and is still kicking around the industry.

I mentioned anime, but the funny thing about Mirai Ninja is that it's a movie game. Namco wasn't known for their movie games back then, but this is different because Namco actually had a stake in producing the live-action film of the same name. It was released in the US as "Cyber Ninja" (the game never showed up), and it's, um... interesting? Click that link and note the giant walking mecha houses in the intro, which also show up in the game. It's nothing if not faithful!

But Mirai Ninja is still a movie game, and so in accordance with the unwritten law, it's not that great compared to other great arcade games that year. Again, it's basically Legend of Kage, complete with deceptive difficulty: You can pretty much sprint through the first few levels without taking much damage, but then the game starts throwing more enemies at you at once, and makes bosses even bigger assholes. Naturally, this would be easy to deal with under normal conditions, but by default, you only get one life, and continuing puts you back at the beginning of the stage. Come on, Namco, did you expect everyone to love everything about Mirai Ninja that they'd see the movie dozens of times and play the game dozens more regardless of how much it beat their brow?

Still, I like Mirai Ninja. It's not friendly, it's not super original, but what it lacks in unoriginal gameplay it pays back in absurd character and level design that sometimes does feel like an over-the-top Japanese action movie. Go figure.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Hotdog Storm

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Hotdog Storm (Marble Inc., 1996)

Arcade shoot-em-ups weren't always the "bullet hell" stuff we see now (and I really should find a less tired term to use next time) -- the shift towards that occurred in the late '90s, when the genre sort of leveled out in quality and wasn't really drawing in players like they used to, and without the strong competitive component of fighting games to keep them going, shooters were all but headed underground. And Hotdog Storm was one of the harbingers of the decline.

Not that it's a bad game, though. But for starters, Hotdog Storm is not a run-of-the-mill name, and if you're like me, that will be your only reason for playing it. (I'm not sure anyone figured out what it's supposed to refer to; the emblem on the title screen suggests that it's the name of the fighting force you belong to.) Unfortunately, I have to burst your bubble: The game doesn't live up to the title. Right after the title screen, you'll see that it's another jet fighter shooter where you blow up big robots. Yay. And this was in 1996, right about when all that stuff finally got long in the tooth, and a year after Cave debuted with the first DonPachi.

But, again, regardless of Marble not having the best timing in history, Hotdog Storm is a capable shooter. The graphics are decent, with a clear Raiden influence -- explosions are common, and shrapnel flies everywhere once something's destroyed. And most of the enemies, not just bosses, use sectional sprite parts to make the mechs hover and "breathe," an animation technique that wasn't used too often.

This isn't even like Dino Rex, where you think you're just playing something kind of crappy, and then all of a sudden you're thrown into Crazy Land. The only other food imagery is in the high score screen, which features flying hot dogs and condiment bottles. Maybe that's where they got the idea for the name -- someone was staring at their After Dark screensaver and decided to bring the flying toaster concept over to hot dogs. And yes, I am struggling to find something else to write about Hotdog Storm. Basically, it's worth playing just for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of shooter history.

As an interesting historical point, despite being inferior to Cave's games, Hotdog Storm ran on the original hardware developed by Cave for use in their shooters of that period. But I suppose it stands to reason that no matter how great your hardware is, and no matter what innovative games are made for it, you're going to get some lesser products from people that may or may not have tried their best to just get something good out there. All things considered, I do think the makers of Hotdog Storm tried. And at least they're really great at picking names.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Pistol Daimyo's Adventure

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure (Namco, 1990)

Namco is credited with pushing arcade shoot-em-ups forward with Galaga and Xevious, though they rarely stepped out of those two universes afterward, except Dragon Spirit and Dragon Saber, which aren't too mechanically different from Xevious anyway. For the most part, they let other companies concentrate on that genre while they went ahead and tried to innovate in others. Namco's straight-up shooters were more about looking different than being completely different.

Enter Pistol Daimyo. It was one of Namco's few horizontal shooters (Ordyne being among them), and was not at all serious. The cartoony style lampooned many tropes from Japanese history and mythology and simply turned it into an absurd shooting game. It wasn't the first "wacky" shooting game, since the aforementioned Ordyne and Konami's Parodius came years before, and it definitely doesn't seem like something that Namco was putting a lot of marketing muscle behind. This seems more or less like a passion project (or at worst, a goof-off time-filler) for the team that made it.

Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is notable for a few things. OK, it's notable for one thing: you play as a daimyo with a giant gun fused to his head, and who flies around by rapidly flapping fans he's holding with his feet. His origin is a mystery, but few would want to question a guy with a gun on his head. Technically, Pistol Daimyo's Adventure is a spin-off of Bravoman, as the Daimyo first appeared as a boss character in that game. He's been redrawn and refitted here, as his "Adventure" takes place in his home world of Feudal Japan But Crazier (my nomenclature).

Indeed, this take on ancient Japan certainly paints an odd picture of the nation. You'll be fighting angry frogs, throngs of ninjas, giant whales, entire battleships, and more as Pistol Daimyo slowly floats along the countryside. If nothing else, it looks consistent; it's not so absurd as to throw digitized people or large sexy women in your face like Parodius or PuLiRuLa does. It's just a big damn fun cartoon.

But the true defining characteristic of Pistol Daimyo (the game) is that it's unrelentingly difficult. For something that looks like it's meant for kids, it starts bringing the hurt from the get-go. And since this was before the days of bullet-blanketing shooters like DoDonPachi, the difficulty doesn't come from the volume of bad things coming at you as it does the speed and the volume. Most of the enemies are made with their own movement patterns, so there's lots of grouping of enemies who jump or fly or run in their own ways, leaving you with few "outs." Quick reaction time is important, but if you've been playing too many recent shooters, where most of the time you're making incremental movements to avoid waves of bullets you can clearly see coming, then you might need some readjusting. Regardless, for a clever shooter that's as challenging as it is baffling, simply look down the barrel of Pistol Daimyo.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Dino Rex

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Dino Rex (Taito, 1992)

We all know Street Fighter II. It burst onto the scene in 1991 and changed everybody's notion of what a "fighting game" could be, becoming one of the marquee arcade games of the decade. Naturally, lots of other game companies from all around the world saw what Capcom was accomplishing and started the early '90s wave of fighting games. We also all know about Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and the bajillion fighting games made for SNK's NeoGeo.

Taito's response to this phenomenon was Dino Rex, which at the time was pretty damn unique: an all-dinosaur fighting game based in a world where the giant reptiles inhabit the earth along with a race of tribal humans that capture and pit the beasts against each other for sport. Everybody else making a fighting game was using human martial arts masters 'n' stuff, but here was something different, and so early on, at that.

If the concept sounds familliar, it should. Atari's Primal Rage had a similar approach, featuring prehistoric creatures battling for supremacy, but it came out a few years later. And Dino Rex is no Primal Rage. The dinos themselves are made up of no more than two colors each, making the whole game easily replicable in your own home after taking a trip to Dollar Tree and grabbing any two toys that resemble dinosaurs. And considering that real dinosaurs didn't have a ton of color variation to them, some of the dinos in the game are given easily-recognizable colors. Such as the T-Rex, who was given a bright purple hue that isn't immediately hilarious in the least.

Artistic re-creation of Dino Rex character select screen

The toy comparison is apt for another reason. Imagine for a second what trying to control giant dinosaurs in a fighting game would be like. Yeah, it's not much different than clacking those cheap action figures against each other. Part of it's due to the game's poor collision detection -- landing an attack can often whiff even if you're right up against an opponent, or go the other way and keep you trapped as the other player juggles or tackles you. Even the smaller dinos feel as rigid as the bigger ones.

So, basically, Dino Rex just isn't that good, and ended up forgotten for a reason. Anyway, after you get a feel for the controls, and defeat your second opponent, you head to the next sta--

Hold on.

Wait. Wait. Seriously.

What's-- did I black out for a second?

Oh my lord.

So, basically, Dino Rex is fantastic.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Strength & Skill

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

Strength & Skill (Sun Electronics, 1984)

Some games become so popular, there's no avoiding the reality that they'll be ripped off. In the '80s, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., and many others established whole genres of games that didn't end up too different from one another. Konami's Track & Field was also a popular arcade game, but didn't spawn nearly as many rip-offs as those other heavy-hitters. Maybe because Track & Field was a recipe for destruction: the constant slapping of the action buttons in order to do anything in that game could destroy a cabinet's control panel in a matter of weeks -- maybe, provided the game was popular enough.

One of the few games that really took the spirit of Track & Field and ran with it was Sun Electronics'/Sunsoft's Strength & Skill (or its more amusing Japanese name, "The Guinness," due to the loose ties to the Guinness Book of World Records.). On the surface, it's pretty much the same game: you play a lithe man in shorts and a jersey trying to qualify in a series of events, all requiring you to mash on two action buttons to maintain speed and power... or, er, strength and skill.

The difference, though, is that the events are increasingly absurd. It starts with Log Sawing, where you must slice off a wheel of a log as fast as possible, then it's on to Pile Driving, where you must pound smaller logs into the ground. Then, a sprint up a steep hill, a ring toss over the gap of a canyon onto a small branch at the other side, plate spinning, skateboarding, and so on.

Really, it's nice that Strength & Skill doesn't take itself seriously. Its makers could have stayed with the less-crazy events, but instead included old-timey TV variety show events like the plate spinning and ring tossing. There are cute little details in some of the events, too, as strategically-placed animals can net you extra points if you manage to hit them: If you accidentally pound the ground in Pile Driving, a mole pops up. If you then hit the mole, you get 3,000 points. OK, maybe that's more cruel than cute.

 

Though it's mostly unchanged from Konami's game, one thing Strength & Skill adds to Track & Field's formula is a joystick. In addition to pounding on two buttons (which is what Track & Field only had), you also had to move your athlete in order to direct his saw, properly throw rings, or walk around keeping the spinning plates up. But those two buttons are still there, and still need to be pressed rapidly. To account for this, you gain power faster in S&S, since you'll have to have only one of your hands dedicated to the buttons. And with both hands occupied, it cuts down on cheating (if you're playing it on an actual cabinet, that is).

That doesn't mean the game is easy. You can get the hang of Log Sawing and Pile Driving fairly quickly, but the ring toss requires certain timing, and you'll probably start cursing more often once you reach plate spinning, because your guy isn't moving nearly as fast enough, and you need to keep seven plates spinning just to qualify. Like Track & Field, this is a game designed to get at least two coins out of you before you finally leave the machine.

But is it any good? As mentioned, the amount of games directly inspired by Track & Field was slim, though many games tested your stamina in other ways, like Arm Champs. Despite the change of pace, Strength & Skill falls into the same trap as Track & Field: either you dedicate yourself to finishing it and never play it again, or you give up early and never play it again. There are punishing games, and then there are punishing games.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: The Great Ragtime Show

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.

Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.

The Great Ragtime Show (Data East, 1992)

To start, I thought I'd go with a game that's definitely odd, but isn't bad enough to be laughable: The Great Ragtime Show, an unfortunately forgotten shoot-em-up from Data East. Forgotten perhaps because its name is as out-of-place as calling Crash Bandicoot "Uproarious Animal Revue."

Yes, Great Ragtime Show (also known as Boogie Wings) is, despite the title, not really about a great ragtime show; tap dancing and jolly piano licks will not be in your face. However, its style is very much inspired by the adventure serials of the silent film days, with a bit of a steampunk aesthetic, too -- you're meant to be fighting an army of enemies who have mastered manufacturing walking assault robots and such.

Beyond that, it's a very inspired shooter. You start off flying a biplane that has a hook attached to it, carrying a spiked ball and swinging freely as you fly around. When you let go of the ball, the free-flying hook can grab onto almost anything in the game that isn't bolted down -- trucks, tanks, enemy soldiers, what have you. You can't do much except let go of the things you grab and fling them across the screen, but it does help kill enemies nonetheless.

Your plane can't last forever, and if you're a beginning player, you'll inevitably get shot down. But that's where the brilliance comes in: You keep playing as the pilot, who bails out and continues the assault on foot with nothing but his pea shooter of a pistol. And though you may have lost a plane, you can quickly gain a motorcycle, horse, miniature tank, or car with a missile on it.

Great Ragtime Show comes from a time when shoot-em-ups were just about to become full-on "bullet hell" games, so it relies on background spectacle more than projectile mayhem, and it's all the better for it. An early stage has you speeding by a Ferris wheel that's gone loose and tumbles through town, and another takes place in a town celebrating Christmas (including evil Santa-bots) which then transitions into a baseball stadium for some reason. It's a bunch of amazing scenes every other second, something that I feel is lacking in today's action games.

But really, as much as I can describe The Great Ragtime Show to you; as much as I can tell you it doesn't deserve to be forgotten in the annals of history, it boils down to the fact that you really have to play it. Or at worst, watch a YouTube clip: