A Thousand Words: Battle Circuit

Battle Circuit

One of the last arcade beat em ups that Capcom released in the wake of Final Fight, 1997’s Battle Circuit was obscure for many years until its availability in the Capcom Arcade Stadium collection. This is a shame, because of all the successors to that masterpiece, Battle Circuit is the best I’ve played.

The plot is simple: In a sci fi future, control one of five bounty hunters as they pursue a bunch of colorful villains. The quirkiness and silliness of the genre shows in both the heroes and villains. You can choose between Cyber Blue, a pretty normal anime hero, Captain Silver, a Plastic Man/Mr. Fantastic style stretch-armer, and three goofballs: Catgirl Yellow Iris, walking Venus Flytrap Alien Green, and the weirdest yet: Pink Ostrich, the titular bird with a girl riding on its back (it’s unclear who’s the brains). Similarly, the bosses are just as ridiculous. They start with a disco Elvis impersonator and go through such things as a woman and her giant mandril, an all-female biker gang, and a robot samurai riding some giant beast. The final boss can only be described as looking like an evil Santa Claus.

But what makes the game amazing beyond these characters and their beautiful sprites/animations is how it’s both easy and deep. Sure, it can be played like Final Fight. You can jump around, throw, and do sweep attacks that cost you health. But each character has a lot of moves, and they can be upgraded between levels if you’ve earned enough coins-which you get by landing lots of hits on enemies. Mastering each of these moves makes things a lot more fun. Especially as the characters have their styles, with Alien Green being the slow grappler a la Haggar and Yellow Iris being the rapid “Guy”. All can jump and power up with a special gauge, the effects of which range from gaining more power to recovering health to becoming very durable for a brief time.

There are a few snags. The first is that the characters are not exactly balanced compared to each other. Cyber Blue is the cheap easy mode character. Not only is he intuitive and strong, but his upgraded sweep attack damages everything on the screen. Bosses can be cheesed by just powering up (which increases his strength) and then spamming that move. Meanwhile, Pink Ostrich is very weak normally, only has a flight power of dubious use, and is hard to control. The others fall between those extremes. The worse one, I’d say, is that the segments between the bosses are kind of minimal and forgettable. There’s only a few enemy types and no real engaging set pieces. It’s not really bad, but it doesn’t have the spark the rest of the game does.

Also the third boss is a blander giant robot with very wonky hit detection that’s just frustrating and not fun. But hey, five out of six aren’t bad.

If you like any kind of beat em up, you deserve to check out Battle Circuit. It’s an amazing underappreciated game.

A Thousand Words: Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Capcom, fresh off the success of Final Fight, made another arcade brawler called Captain Commando in 1991. I’m sure the title was just a coincidence. You can control the titular vanilla superhero, a ninja, an alien mummy named “Mack The Knife”, and, most bizarrely, a baby prodigy that controls a mech-that can ride other mechs. It’s like the walking robot version of a nesting doll.

Anyway, to call it a superhero version of Final Fight would be unfair. It’s more like a souped up superhero Final Fight. For instance, the second boss of Captain Commando is almost exactly like the final boss in that game (someone who jumps around with a crossbow). Only he’s much faster. As for the real final boss, it’s one of the cheapest in all arcade brawlers, and exists primarily to devour quarters.

For all this enhanced goofiness, it doesn’t seem as graceful or punchy as Final Fight was. The new move additions consist of the previously mentioned mechs (which are few and far between, and clunky enough to generally be more trouble than they’re worth) and dash moves that are both hard to do and rarely of that much use.

It gets the basics right, but if you have to choose, I’d say either Final Fight itself or one of the better successors. This is not one of the better successors.

A Thousand Words: M. D. Geist

M. D. Geist

One of the most infamous animes of the 1980s, M. D. Geist was a crudely made original video animation that sank into obscurity. Or it would have if the head of western distributor Central Park Media hadn’t taken a liking to it and pushed it forward. Because of this, there’s been a backlash against the excuse-plot gorefest of a power-armored monster fighting through a sci-fi apocalypse that is M. D. [Most Dangerous] Geist.

That said, it doesn’t deserve to be listed as one of the worst of all time, as it too often is. Like fellow mid-1980s pop culture phenomenon We Built This City by Jefferson Starship, though lacking, there’s a lot worse out there. As cheesy fun it “works”. And that’s often what you need.

A Thousand Words: Final Fight

Final Fight

Capcom’s 1989 Final Fight was not the first “beat em up” video game. It wasn’t the first popular game of that type, with Double Dragon taking that two years earlier. But it was an instance where the genre was-dare I say-mastered. With an excuse plot of “save the mayor’s daughter”, ninja Guy, tough thug Cody, and the former wrestling star and mayor himself, Mike Haggar, go off to wallop street goons in a thinly veiled New York City.

An action sports star in political office of that nature has come true twice , with former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota and, more recently and relevantly, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko becoming mayor of war-torn Kyiv. But I digress. Final Fight either introduced or popularized a lot of beat em up elements, the first being playable characters on a speed-power spectrum from Haggar (slow, strong) to Guy (fast, weaker). The second was the moveset, combining normal attacks, throws, and an all-round attack that costs the player health.

It’s amazing how A: This feels natural and effective, and B: All of this was accomplished with only one attack button. The fighting is fluid and forgiving in ways that a lot of similar games-even those made by Capcom itself-are not. Everything from combinations to attacking enemies by throwing other enemies at them just clicks. The one sour move is the grab attack (where you just hold and beat an enemy), which is both hard to do and of limited use given how many enemies are on screen at once. But everything else fits into its niche near-perfectly.

The graphics are amazing for the time and still look good by pixel art standards over thirty years later. The music a mixed bag, but it has some catchy tunes and it’s a rare instance of an arcade game from that period with actually good sound mixing. Others will often have the music drowned out by the action, which is not the case here.

Final Fight is a classic video game. And it’s a classic for good reason.

A Thousand Words: Carrier Air Wing

Carrier Air Wing

Capcom’s 1990 Carrier Air Wing is a fairly standard side scrolling plane shooter. Except for one thing that elevated it massively in my eyes. That’s the surprisingly detailed and (in a visual sense) accurate depiction of military hardware. You can control either a Hornet, a Tomcat, or an Intruder (which is marked as an A-6F. Wonder if they knew of the never-was upgrade or if it was a happy coincidence because they chose the next letter after E.)

When I saw Tu-22 Blinders as enemies in the first level, I was in love. When I saw Yak-38s in a later stage, I was even more in love. This is quite possibly the most Fuldapocalyptic shmup there is, and I loved playing every second of it. Yes, there’s the sci-fi superweapons (such as a final boss that includes a Buran shuttle) but it’s otherwise very grounded-looking compared to other games of its time and nature.

This is basically a video game adaptation of a Mack Maloney novel. What’s not to like?

A Thousand Words: Progear


What do you get when you push an inherently limited genre as far as it can go? Probably something like Progear, a 2001 Capcom arcade “shmup”, the classic Gradius-type arcade game where you control a little spaceship moving around on a scrolling field. Only this “spaceship” is a World War I-type fighter plane, and the game has a very dieselpunk theme that I like. The graphics are very good, being (or at least looking like) beautiful sprites in an age of polygons.

The story is utter nonsense, and I have to wonder how much of it is due to iffy translations and how much is due to just limited information. Basically a group of young pilots have to fight off a conspiracy of posh Victorians led by a lion-man, and I’m not making that up. It feels like you only got ten seconds of a thirty-minute show and had to piece everything together from there. But this is a classic video game where such stuff was par for the course.

The gameplay is nothing to write home about, as it’s the same “fire away, use limited power ups, and try and dodge at least some of the impossibly large number of projectiles heading your way” formula. But that’s a fun formula for a reason. And whether by accident or design, one boss seemed to mock the formula. In a game where your ship faces right and only right, the boss tries to counter by…. moving to the left of the screen. Too bad you have homing missiles.

This is not a deep game, even by the standards of arcade classics. It’s not the most polished or fair game. But it is quite the fun game, and a sign of how far “handmade” graphics could go.

The Literary Consequences of Nuclear Proliferation

There is one country that, on paper, would be a prime candidate for nuclear weapons. It’s large, militarized, has had a reputation for what can politely be called “stubborn independence”, and directly bordered the USSR. The country in question: Turkey. Now, there has been constant talk and pushing for a nuclear arsenal from it as early as the 1960s. But it has not amounted to anything substantive in actual history.

That could very well have not been the case, and archrival Greece might have followed with an (attempted?) independent deterrent of its own. From there, the butterflies could spiral off. As someone who is no expert on the politics of that region, I will make no claims. But as an avid reader of cheap thrillers, I can safely say that in that situation, Turkey and maybe Greece would join the USSR and Pakistan as the countries of choice where the terrorists buy/steal/are donated nuclear weapons from in novels and their adaptations.

Actually I’m a little surprised that there’s been fairly little use of South Africa as a nuclear source given the apartheid government’s easy villain use and its genuinely successful weapons program. I guess the South African nuclear arsenal was too small (it amounted to only six Little Boy-level warheads) and more importantly, too obscure (it didn’t stay in the headlines long because the ANC government rapidly dismantled it with very little controversy).

Of course, if postwar Japan with its technology and piles of fissile material managed to go nuclear (some fire-breather rises to the top of the ruling party?), you can bet what a bunch of 1990s technothrillers would have focused on.

A Thousand Words: Mega Man

Mega Man

Mega Man and Street Fighter are two of Capcom’s legendary franchises. Perhaps fittingly, they followed the same pattern: Breaking out with a rightfully praised and successful second installment after a less-than-ideal first one. And in both cases, the way they were clunky were the same: The very basics of what would make them so great were there, but they were incredibly rough around the edges.

Mega Man 1 thus has everything the later games have: Platforming, shooting, and defeating bosses to use their weapons. And in 1987, there wasn’t that much of a comparison. The problem is the second game two years later utterly obliterated it in terms of usability, difficulty, ease of play-everything, basically.

So in Mega Man 1, you have only six Robot Masters compared to the eight of pretty much every later game. But the game is overloaded with the kind of “cheap difficulty” even by the standards of the time. Spikes explain this very good. In later Mega Man games, falling into spikes kills you instantly-but if you were knocked onto them by an enemy and still had your brief recovery frames, then you had a small chance to escape if you jumped right away. Not so here-if you come into contact with spikes, goodbye.

There’s also no real good starting boss/level, and in true 1980s game fashion, the game is unwinnable unless you get a “secret” item in one stage. You could do worse for other vintage platformers, but you could also do a lot better. Like, say, one of the nine direct sequels.

The Zombie Gym Leader Who Never Was

It’s no secret that all kinds of fictional works change from their beginning to their final product. And a minor character in a classic video game embodies this very well. In the Kanto Pokemon games, Erika is the grass-type specialist leader of the Celadon City gym. Wearing traditional Japanese clothing, her characterization is that of a graceful flower lady (who has a tendency to fall asleep).

But apparently she wasn’t always that way. And some of the changes made to her were after her Gen I artwork had already been drawn.

Development and concepts assets that have emerged have shown a picture of the original Erika. She would have been placed in what would have been Lavender Town (which in the final version didn’t have a gym at all). And, unsurprisingly, she would have specialized in ghost types. The sole ghost specialist who actually emerged in Gen I was Agatha, portrayed as a normal person who just happened to use ghost types.

At least judging from her art design, Erika would, uh, not have been. Her eyes were closed and the Poke Ball in her sprite was in midair, which could be justified as her juggling it but which was likely meant to have her hovering it with supernatural powers. Finally, her clothes were folded in a way that was only used for the dead in her initial sprite. (A pretty big implication of this is that her design was changed in Yellow and all later appearances to be folded the correct way).

In other words, she was heavily implied just from the visual assets alone to be some kind of undead. Since no final text dialogue was made, there’s no 100% confirmation, but it’s pretty clear. Would this design carrying over really change much?

Probably not. Unlike a few other Gen I leaders, Erika did not become a superstar in her own right. At the time, not much would really change. Except for her prominence. See, spooky Lavender Town became a centerpiece of internet creepypasta campfire stories immediately. And having someone who was an outright zombie? Oh yeah, she’s definitely getting featured in them. So even if official media stays out, Erika the Zombie would become a star of the internet.

Since a multiverse canonically exists in Pokemon, Zombie Erika probably lives in some variant universe. Much as how creepy supernatural anime Sabrina exists alongside normal actress game Sabrina. Who knows, maybe this Erika starts conventional Fuldapocalypses as a hobby. Has the zombie sorceress been found?!?

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale

Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale is a classic horror novel about high school students being thrown onto an island by a totalitarian government and forced to kill each other until only one is left. I knew I had to read it. Although I think the timing is off. After this, the similar Hunger Games (whose author believably said that the similarities were a coincidence), and an entire popular genre of “one shall survive” video games like Fortnite and PUBG, it’s not as out-there as it would have been at the time.

One area that did not slow the gory book down is the translation, which is at the very least sufficient. The writing style, regardless of language, conveys the action very well.

However, the book is still kind of flawed. And I’d argue that there’s two main reasons. The first is that the setting is so dark that it’s hard to care about anyone, since even if their class had avoided “The Program” in the first place, it would be unlikely that they’d come to a happy end in such a ruthless state. The second is that the book is just too long for its premise.

It has the substance of a fairly short cheap thriller, which it still is in spite of its pretensions-which are a little too prominent. I had to groan at the main characters suddenly dipping into “As you know, Bob…” setting exposition at the worst possible moments. Not the book’s finest hour. Anyway, there’s a good 200 page novel there, but it’s 600 pages. And the bulk of those pages consist of kills that probably should have happened offscreen, so we could focus on the real protagonists.

That being said, I’m still glad I read this book. But it’s very much a “mean 51%”. And that’s fine!