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".

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Sapo Xulé - SOS Lagoa Poluída (Master System)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
3 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Tectoy / Sega
Published by Tectoy in 1995

Created by a talented cartoonist during the 80s and based on a famous Brazilian children's song, Sapo Xulé (which translates to something like "Stinky Feet Frog") was adopted by Tectoy and promoted to a local mascot a few years later. Starting with a plastic frog toy that exuded a bad odor when stripped off of his sneakers, the company soon followed with three video games released exclusively for the Master System.

The stinky detail about these games is that they are all official hacks, meaning they were all hacks officially endorsed by Sega at the time. Sapo Xulé Vs. Os Invasores do Brejo is a hack of Psycho Fox, whereas Sapo Xulé - O Mestre do Kung Fu uses Kung Fu Kid as a basic mold. In the case of Sapo Xulé - SOS Lagoa Poluída the game in question is Astro Warrior. The latter is also the only one that got an European release in Portugal.

All Sapo Xulé titles are nicely packaged in late Master System boxes, with sympathetic art, specific instruction manuals and rather detailed backstories. They are nice collector's items in their own right, but all they offer in terms of gameplay is an experience that's identical to the original template. In SOS Lagoa Poluída (or SOS Polluted Pond), Sapo Xulé must battle three underground areas in order to free his environment from evil greedy scientists. Astro Warrior's star-dotted backgrounds are recolored in green to resemble a swamp, and all sprites of the enemy gallery get replaced by cartoony renditions of garbage and a few random objects.

Meet Blublu

There's a single noticeable functional difference from this game and Astro Warrior: it's the number of starting spare lives, which in Sapo Xulé - SOS Lagoa Poluída is five, as opposed to the original two. Other than that the gameplay is exactly the same, down to enemy and boss behavior. Stage and boss names were altered to something more swampy though: Blurp Lake is protected by boss Plurb, Gulpb Lake is protected by boss Blublu, Sgurpb Lake is protected by boss Sblug. They all SURELY SURVIVE after defeat, meaning the game loops these three stages endlessly.

As you fly over terrain that resembles Star Soldier you can shoot around at will and collect the items that arrive floating in the middle of the screen. Even though these items seem to come at random spots as you play, they are actually spawned by destroying successive ground tiles. A red pepper serves as speed-up, a funny face is the power-up and a tiny thingie grants you a trailing option to increase firepower. It takes two power-ups and two options to achieve max power, with plenty of speed-ups to send you rocketing around the screen if you so wish. Beware not to let the option item pass by, if that happens you won't have the chance to collect another one for the duration of the current life. At one moment speed-ups stop appearing, but power-ups keep coming no matter how long it takes for you to pick them up.

By trying to make a sci-fi shooter look like a wacky cute'em up, Tectoy was only able to go halfway and doesn't really succeed. Sure, you will be shooting at rotten apples, dirty boots, banana peels, watermelon slices, amoeba flocks, matchsticks and other unidentified flying objects. Boss sprites are retouched in order to look like vehicles piloted by creatures from the pond (the detail of final boss Sblug's ugly face inside the cockpit is nice, for example). But that's it, essentially. Bullet patterns are unaltered and the music is unchanged. It's just like having a regionally different Astro Warrior. We couldn't ask much from a hack anyway, I guess.

Sapo Xulé to the rescue!
(courtesy of YouTube user Anarki)

With just three stages, Sapo Xulé - SOS Lagoa Poluída is a rather short game that loops forever, as I mentioned above. Difficulty is already maxed out on the second loop, however playing marathon runs isn't a trivial endeavor simply because recovering from deaths can be quite tricky. Blame it on the extremely slow default speed of our poor little stinky feet frog. And once all four extra lives are gained you won't get any more extends (the extend interval is 50.000 points, but note that the current score is only shown in between levels).

In my pursuit of a better performance in the game I had a few surprises. The first one was that upon beating Plurb again in stage 6.1 I noticed my score had rolled over on the mark of one million points. Suffice it to say my will to continue playing faded right there and then. However, upon reverting back to the start screen I found out the game actually has a counterstop on 999.900 points, as we can see in the picture below. Upon a quick research I discovered that this is also the case with Astro Warrior. Well, better late than never, I guess. Nonetheless I did have fun with SOS Lagoa Poluída, and I believe achieving the counterstop in either version still stands as a fun little challenge for all Master System owners.