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.

Review: The Han Solo Adventures

The Han Solo Adventures

Originally published in three installments from 1979 to 1980, the Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley were the first books in what would become the Star Wars expanded universe. Star Wars fans tend to love them, and I’m one of them. Without restrictions or a desire to one-up the movies (I’m looking at you, Kevin J. Anderson), the books are a fresh fun romp through the Corporate Sector.

Daley can write everything from prison breaks to starfighter bouts to duelists well, and he does in these books. Every Star Wars fan, science fiction fan, or just fiction fan should read these.

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.

Review: Cadia Stands

Cadia Stands

Of all the Warhammer 40K factions, my absolute favorite by absolute far is the Imperial Guard (or as they’re supposedly called now, the Astra Militarum). So I had to read Cadia Stands, about the 13th Black Crusade (definitely) and one guardswoman’s struggle to survive and escape-supposedly. I mean, the saying correctly went “Cadia Broke Before The Guard Did”, meaning that the forces of Chaos had to literally destroy the world to win.

The book is kind of disjointed. There’s a lot of battle vignettes. Minka Lesk, the young guardswoman in question, is supposedly the main low-level character. But she’s mostly just basically there and little different from all the other Imperial viewpoint figures. So, did I not like it?

NO! HERESY! There’s little wrong with a bunch of battle vignettes, and this is the kind of subgenre that’s incredibly hard to get exactly right. So while it’s not the best, this is a perfectly serviceable action novel.

Review: Knee Deep In The Dead

Doom: Knee Deep In The Dead

You might think that a classic video game with a plot of “run around, shoot monsters” would be hard to novelize. Yet a writer by the name of Dafydd ab Hugh (which is the most Welsh name ever) gave it a try in Knee Deep in the Dead. This could have very easily been a low-effort potboiler. The author would just type out the blandest adherence to the and some filler, submit it, collect the money, and never look back. This has happened with many other visual media adaptations.

But not here.

Knee Deep In The Dead has a lot of running around and shooting monsters. But it also has this very bizarre style (that grew even more bizarre in its sequels, from what I’ve heard) that is nothing short of endearing. It’s one of those books that kind of has to be read to be believed.

Is it “good”? Not really. Is it readable? Yes. Is it fun? Oh yeah. Should you check it out? In my eyes, you betcha.

Review: Tomorrow’s Soldier

Tomorrow’s Soldier

David Alexander’s Tomorrow’s Soldier is a book that you’d expected to be dated based on its subject matter. It’s a 1999 popular account of the WARS AND WARRIORS OF THE FUTURE. And it is dated. It’s also somewhat shallow even by the standards of the time.

It’s still interesting, but isn’t really a rigorous study. The descriptions basically consist of trends that were obvious even at the time (ie, more digitization/etc…) and the obligatory description of wunderwaffe like power armor. This is a little less triumphalist than some other books of its nature, but it isn’t really more substantive.

This felt like a throwaway book even when it was written. And now it’s an older throwaway book. So I’m not really recommending it except as a curiosity. I do wonder if the same “David Alexander” who wrote this was the same “David Alexander” who wrote the ultra-middling Marine Force One. If so, it would be fitting.

Review: Expedition Mars

Expedition Mars

Martin J. L. Turner’s Expedition Mars is an analysis of what a manned voyage to the red planet would take. It’s a very detailed analysis that includes a final hypothetical trip. It’s a very good and interesting book. The problem is that it’s not a very accessible book.

This is a very math heavy book full of calculations. There doesn’t even feel like an attempt at making it readable by someone not terribly knowledgeable in the field (ie me). It’s fine to make an apple instead of an orange, but if I don’t like apples (actually I do like real apples but that’s not the point), I’ll say it.

If you like a hardcore book on Mars exploration, I recommend it. But only if.

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.

Review: Star Wars vs. Warhammer 40k Season 2

Star Wars vs. Warhammer 40k, Season 2

My voracious consumption of the Star Wars vs. Warhammer 40k fan audio drama continues apace. Having finished the self-declared second season, I feel like I should give my thoughts on it. The planet Axum is the site of the first gargantuan Imperium-Republic slugfest, and no stone is left unturned.

The pace does slow as seemingly everyone from top to bottom gets a viewpoint treatment. Clones, guardsmen, marines, admirals, Jedi, you name it. I will sadly say that a few times it does feel like the story focuses too much on individual trees and not enough on the forest, and that I’d like to see more post-Axum installments where more time and events pass in one episode.

However, this also has the virtues of such an approach, and it shows as well. A lot of the set pieces are excellent to the point where it feels like Larry Bond decided to take up writing crossover fanfiction. The culture clash as the tamer Star Wars universe is exposed to the gonzo craziness of 40k is still there and still well done. And it has one of my personal favorite plausible moments: When Republic clone troopers see Guard Ogryns, look at the huge humanoids, and think they’re Astartes/Space Marines. It’s very much a “the Panzer IV looks like a Tiger” situation, and I smiled.

For all my minor critiques, I’m majorly enjoying this drama.