I've played a lot of games over the course of my life. Starting off with my beaten up 2600 and a like-new NES, moving onto the SNES, Genesis, and just about every other platform throughout the decades. I'll never forget the joy of renting a game for these systems; rushing home and turning it on to find either a great title like Super Metroid or a pile of crap like, well, a lot of them. Most games were pretty bad, but at the same time most games were not so well known, limited to the brave few who took a chance at a video rental store There were just so many games back then and there was so little opportunity to play them all. A lot of titles were overlooked; they deserved much better but got so little.
Here in the first edition of Overlooked Games we're going to be looking at the good games that never got much attention. Some may be fantastic, some may just be enjoyable, but they're all worth checking out. Let's get started.
First up is Firestriker, made by Axes Art Amuse for the Super Nintendo and also known as Holy Striker in Japan. It was released in December of 1993 and made its way to North America in October 1994. I would describe Firestriker as "Breakout meets A Link to the Past". Firestriker looks so much like A Link to the Past that my first reaction was that it was a clone. I first came upon it in a local games store in 1995 while looking for a copy of the newly released Chrono Trigger. I didn't find Chrono Trigger, but I did find what would become one of my favorite action-puzzle games of all time. Granted, there's not many action-puzzle games out there. Firestriker is the first thing I think of when I think of overlooked games, and it's a real shame.
The object of Firestriker isn't necessarily to get rid of every block or obstacle, but to get the orb (called the Trialight) into the next area. Theoretically you could only need to remove a few blocks. I've never played so neat a game, though you might have a better time of it. Firestriker is set apart from the basic Breakout formula with a few simple additions: Enemies, power ups, weird physics, a controllable buffer character, and bosses. The enemies are pretty simple, you just hit them with the ball to kill them and while alive they try to kill you. The power ups are in the form of a power bar. Get a power orb, then use it to shoot the ball through several layers of obstacles. Or you can waste it and hit the walls every single time like me because I am bad at video games.
The weird physics are much more difficult to describe. The ball doesn't fall "downward" like it does in Breakout. Because the characters are supposed to be on a horizontal plane rather than a vertical one, the ball just sort of rolls downhill. It slows, stops, and then continues rolling. It's pretty cool and gives you a reasonable amount of time to get over there and hit it again. The buffer character is almost necessary, especially on the later levels. You can lose the round by having the ball breach the bottom layer of blocks separating the last map from the current one. To stop this you have a buffer character who will stop the ball and hit it away if it comes too close. At maximum, this character will only cover two blocks so you have to move them (with the shoulder buttons) to strategic areas. Mostly I just put them over damaged blocks, but you could use them "offensively" if you so desire.
Bosses are perhaps the most interesting addition, giving a welcome break from the "hit it at the blocks and then hit it at the blocks" formula. The first boss, some sort of muscular tornado double tiger thing (there's a picture to the right) is pretty simple. You hit the orb around until it damages him and you keep doing that until he dies. He's also Mr. T in disguise, so keep that in mind. Firestriker has some pop culture references in it, at least in the North American release, though I can't remember exactly how much there is. Consider it a nice surprise for when you play.
I wish I could say a bit about Firestriker's two player mode but I've never had the opportunity to play it. You can play with up to four players, which must get pretty hectic. Even without all of that, Firestriker is a fantastic overlooked game and one I will always recommend. I honestly don't know where you could buy Firestriker, as eBay only turns up Holy Striker on the Super Famicom, so my suggestion is to go digging. It's a worthwhile addition to anyone's SNES collection and a welcome addition to mine.
Next we have Mega Turrican on the Sega Genesis, which is an odd mix of an overlooked game and a forgotten one. Mega Turrican has an interesting development story. It was originally being developed by Factor 5, the same developers who made Lair on the Playstation 3, for a first release on the Sega Genesis. Shortly after development had ended, Neon Studios was contracted to create a port of the title for the Amiga. In 1993, while Factor 5 was trying to find a publisher, Neon Studios released their port on the Amiga under publishing by Rainbow Arts and Renegade Software. It wasn't until 1994 that the Genesis original, published by Data East and Sony Imagesoft, was released. This is a rare occurrence of a port of a game being released before the game itself.
Mega Turrican itself is what I like to call a standard Genesis game. You run, you jump, you shoot, and aliens are involved. I didn't play much of the earlier Turrican games despite owning a Commodore 64, but from what I gather you play as a space marine named Bren McGuire who works for the United Planets Freedom Forces. You fight aliens and are the only thing stopping everything and its grandparents from destroying all life as we know it. Armed with a gun and a grappling hook, you set out to kill a bunch of stuff and listen to some cool music. No, really, the music is phenomenal. If I can figure out how I'm gonna add it to my library.
I mentioned a grappling hook. It's a pretty big part of Mega Turrican. You can swing around and use it to get to places that puny space marines are not normally able to get to. At least, in theory you can. Part of me sucking at all video games is that simple mechanics like these go right over my head. Anyway, the grappling hook works like you would expect. It leads Mega Turrican into a territory between Bionic Commando and Contra, complete with all the crazy power ups. I got this one power up that made me shoot around corners vertically. It was the most useful thing I ever had. Then I died. I got another power up that shot giant green shots similar to the charged blasts from MegaMan.
As for my own personal history with Mega Turrican, I didn't come by it in the usual way. I found it inside a Lion King VHS box at a garage sale in 2002 and bought it for $1. At the same garage sale I found a mint condition Sega CD, so regardless of Mega Turrican's quality the night was gonna be a blast. (It's impossible to be bored with full motion videos!) Luckily Mega Turrican was pretty great and I didn't have to resort to playing my only two Sega CD games: Night Trap and Mad Dog McCree. Even after all these years, however, I have never beaten it. I normally grind out games until they take pity on me and all the enemies take a lunch break, but this one has remained difficult. I really hope you have better luck than me at this one.
Mega Turrican is all over the place on eBay, especially for an overlooked game, so check that out if you're looking to add it to your collection. It's a pretty nice addition, and among collectors it may be required if only for the talking points that its development creates.
The last overlooked game we'll be talking about today is Rakugakids on the Nintendo 64, published in 1998 in Japan and Europe. Developed by Konami, believe it or not, it's a 2Dish fighting game starring children's drawings. I say 2Dish because it's actually a bunch of 2D stuff in a 3D world, similar to Parappa the Rapper (another extraordinary game). It's similar to other fighting games of the time like Clay Fighter and Marvel vs Capcom, though it's comparatively simpler and easier to understand. It doesn't stop me from being terrible at it, but you get the idea.
The art is meant to look like children's doodles and does it pretty well. Whenever I play I tend to just marvel at all the weird stuff that goes on. Nola, the character with the chicken hat in the right picture, randomly turns into a chicken. I don't know how to make it happen but it does. Occasionally Andy will shoot some sort of special laser. I don't know where anything comes from or why it's happening but it's here and it's awesome.
I'm not a big fan of fighting games. The combos are confusing and it's difficult to do anything. As a fighting game, Rakugakids is simple enough that people like me, challenged by the complexities of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, can actually do some stuff. I won a round against a CPU earlier today while obtaining pictures for this post. I still can't believe it. Rakugakids is basic as far as fighting games go but is still just as enjoyable as other fighting games of the time. That's an accomplishment in itself.
I first came across Rakugakids at a local video rental place somewhere prior to 2000. Being that it wasn't a North American release, it wasn't actually sold there, but I knew the guy who ran the store and brought it home with me as part of our usual game swapping shenanigans. I only gave it a try after Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon disappointed me in an infinite number of ways and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Up until that point my experience in N64 fighting games was more or less limited to Mace: The Dark Age. Rakugakids was a much more pleasant to play game, not just in looks but in its interaction. The controls are good, the sound is nice, the graphics are appealing, and the animation is impressive. It feels like the kind of fighting game that is best played with friends, not because it's bad and bad things are good with friends, but because it's an addicting and unique game that is better when experienced with other people.
To summarize, Rakugakids is an overlooked gem of a fighting game developed by Konami, the same people that brought us just about everything back in those days. It's a somewhat simple interpretation of the genre that maintains the fun of the more complex games. Anyone out there with a decently sized Nintendo 64 collection would be remiss to not have this grace their shelves.
Rakugakids is on eBay for some pretty good prices if you're interested in checking it out.
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