Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Adventurous Boy (Mega Drive)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
8 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Gamtec
Published by Gamtec in 1998

Famous games and franchises often have their strengths copied or imitated in further titles, in a natural evolution that's perfectly expected in the world of video games. However, a minor part of this evolution is comprised of blatant ripoffs that often pop up as bootlegs or unlicensed products. One of these is Adventurous Boy, a rare cartridge to find in original form for Mega Drive aficionados. There's no in-game information about its release year, but online sources indicate that it came out in 1998.

Developed by Taiwanese company Gamtec, the same one that delivered Magic Girl, the game is best defined as a shameless clone of Fantasy Zone, so no special presentation is needed if you happen to know how Sega's classic plays. What's needed in the case of Adventurous Boy is the will to try a game that looks nice on the outside but ends up being a mediocre experience in almost all fronts. The saving grace is the nice use of colors for backgrounds and some decent designs with several layers of parallax (the frame rate is also better than what we get in Magic Girl). Unfortunately this good impression fades as you start to play and spot the underlying differences from the finely tuned gameplay of the Fantasy Zone titles.

It all begins with an intro sequence that sets the story of the game in the future and makes absolutely no sense.

Opean ocean, night time and jungle levels
(courtesy of YouTube user taizou / 12bit club)

Button B fires the main shot (weapon 1), button C drops bomb-like auxiliary shots (sp weapon) and button A shoots out single rounds of special weapons (weapon 2). The designations inside parentheses are the ones that segregate the items you're able to buy and select inside the parts shop that appears at the start of all levels except the 8th. The currency used there is the one provided by the stars left behind by destroyed enemies. Most of the time prices vary according to the item's efficiency, but for a better start it's essencial to get one of the speed-up options and one of the bomb alternatives, then keep buttons B and C pressed at all times. Autofire is active by default.

Gameplay follows the tried-and-true formula developed by Sega in Fantasy Zone. As you fly left and right on a cylinder, your mission is to destroy generators that spill out the enemies that populate the levels. The distance to the generators is indicated in a map located at the bottom of the screen. Once all ten generators are destroyed the boss appears, granting you with a lot of stars when defeated. Stage themes vary a lot throughout, as well as the sprites for generators (honeycombs, candy blobs, seahorses, robots, wood logs, etc.). The last stage is a boss rush with all previous bosses and a stupidly easy final boss in the end. In that level you automatically enter the shop once each boss is once again destroyed.

When you try out different weapons one thing becomes clear: all purchases for weapon 1 or weapon 2 types are not permanent. Weapon 1 items have limited duration, whereas weapon 2 items are for single use only (you can buy more if you want, of course). Before leaving the shop you're required to choose which items you'll activate for each category (speed-up and all three weapons). Only speed-ups and bombs (sp weapon) are permanent, at least until you die and lose all your inventory. Track missiles are the way to go for bombs because they follow enemies around and are very useful despite their slow speed and reload cycle. Other upgrades available at the shop include "live" (for health refills, up to seven but not always worth three at once), shield (disappears after a while) and 1UP.

Pink seahorses ahoy!

Though not apparent upon a first contact, there are many flaws in Adventurous Boy. The most aggravating one is that upon dying you become a sitting duck due to the lack of checkpoints, the extremely low default speed of our hero and the fact that no shop appears at all to help you out. If that happens on a boss fight chances are your life stock will be quickly depleted. The good news is that when you figure out how the game works it becomes a walk in the park, mainly because bosses are actually ridiculously easy. Besides, there is no inflation at all for upgrade prices in the shop.

And then there are a few retarded programming bugs, such as the game randomly denying you the choice of a wing type before leaving the shop, thus forcing you to play with no speed-up at all. Or the baffling reset of your score as soon as you fire your first shot in any stage. This means that the number of points you'll have when the game is beaten is the exact score you achieve in the final level. Oh boy...

Don't be fooled by how Adventurous Boy looks. Graphics are okay and you can even say some music tracks stand out (the sound effects, however, are rather miserable). Being unlicensed is no excuse for such lame programming, but unfortunately the game is bottom-of-the-barrel material in that regard. Below is a peek of my final result with the game in the Normal difficulty. You need to pause as soon as the last boss dies or you won't be able to get any record of your "high score".