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PCE Review #11: Barunba

Game: Barunba
Genre: Shoot ’em up
Developer: Namco/Zap Corp
Publisher: Namcot
Format: HuCard
Release date: 1990

There are a number of reasons to like this odd, side-scrolling shmup: Its box art is lovely (as is its manual), its bosses are huge and its gameplay offers up a few surprises that help it stand out from the pack. Sadly, there are many more reasons to dislike it–most of which have to do with the aforementioned gameplay. (Two that don’t: The great majority of the game’s enemies and backdrops are at best boring and at worst ugly, while its sound effects are the definition of “grating.”) Specifically, although the globe-shaped ship gamers control while playing Barunba impresses with its rotatable weaponry, the rather cumbersome rotation aspect actually gets in the way more often than not. As such, most folks are likely to keep their guns aimed straight ahead as much as possible. Also, although each of the game’s five stages are surprisingly extensive (e.g., long), most of them become a drag well before you reach the end. So, with three bullet points in favor of Barunba and four against it, what’s my final verdict on this Namcot-published HuCard? I’d say it’s a curiously unique but disappointingly flawed game that’s worth playing only if you find it on the cheap or if you’re fairly obsessed with the shoot ’em up genre.

See also: Previous PCE Reviews

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Three more PC Engine games I want to like, but can’t

A few weeks ago, I published a post about three Namcot-made PC Engine games that I want to like but can’t. Well, here are three more such games–although, in this case, only one of them was produced by the folks responsible for Pac-Man.

1. Batman (1990)

Why I want to like it: It’s a Batman game. Duh! Also, I rather like the look of the Batman sprite and the top-down view of the action–a welcome change from all of the side-scrolling efforts (like this one and this one) that flooded the market following the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 film.

Why I can’t: It’s pretty darn boring. It starts off well enough, but after a few levels your eyes glaze over (or at least mine did) due to this Sunsoft-developed title’s dreary, repetitive environs and yawn-inducing gameplay.

2. Deep Blue (1989)

Why I want to like it: Well, there’s the game’s box art, for starters, which intriguingly shows a fish-shaped ship firing at a gigantic octopus. And then there are its in-game graphics, which are–in screenshots, at least–similarly intriguing thanks to their gritty, somewhat-realistic sheen.

Why I can’t: Unfortunately, those gritty, somewhat-realistic graphics are awfully repetitive in action. That’s the least of this Pack-in-Video-made title’s problems, though. Much more offensive than its graphics is its gameplay, which pits your slow, underpowered fish-sub against hordes of speedy, zig-zagging gill-breathers that are nearly impossible to avoid.

3. Marchen Maze (1990)

Why I want to like it: Anyone who has been visiting this blog for more than a day or so likely knows I’m a sucker for cute games. Well, this Alice in Wonderland-esque release definitely fits into that category thanks to its bubble-blowing, pigtailed protagonist and a cast of “baddies” that include sunglasses-wearing mushrooms and pink, wind-up-toy penguins.

Why I can’t: This game may be cute, but it’s no cakewalk. In fact, it’s frustratingly–and often cheaply–challenging. You’re constantly being barraged with bullets and other obstacles that send you over the brink (each stage is a platform that floats in space) and eat up one of your precious lives.

It should be noted that none of the above-mentioned games are terrible. On the contrary, each of them contain one or two or even three elements (such as graphics, music or overall concept) that make me think they could be completely enjoyable–if only they didn’t contain a number of flaws, too.

See also: ‘Three PC Engine games I want to like, but can’t

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Barunba the game may suck, but Barunba the manual does not

I’ve voiced my dissatisfaction with the gameplay featured in Namcot’s horizontal shmup, Barunba, before (in this post, for example), but what I haven’t expressed previously, as far as I’m aware, is my fondness for that much-maligned HuCard’s instruction manual.

That fondness begins, of course, with said instruction manual’s cover image (below, right), which shows Barunba‘s always-grinning protagonist gunning his way through a plethora of what appear to be crimson-tinged baddies.

I have to admit, I originally thought the protagonist was piloting his bubble-shaped ship through the innards of another human being, a la Psygnosis’ Microcosm. (I didn’t realize the red blobs in the background were the exteriors of a couple of creatures rather than their interiors, obviously.)

Anyway, the manual’s first two pages can be seen below. I’m guessing they detail the main character’s (and his ship’s) colorful back story, or something like that.

The next pages, on the other hand, seem to describe the many components of the game’s globe-shaped ship.

Barunba‘s main madman is exposed in the next set of pages. Who’s that brute behind him? It’s unlikely I’ll ever find out, as I find the game as boring as unadorned oatmeal.

Speaking of boring, you may as well skip the manual’s next few pages. Thankfully, they’re the only yawn-inducing ones.

You know, if Barunba‘s in-game sprites even partially resembled the illustrations shared on the following pages it would be a far more interesting experience, in my opinion. But would it be a more enjoyable one? Probably not.

Alas, these are the manual’s last few pages. They wrap things up on a high note, though, thanks in large part to that image on the right, which shows the game’s protagonist (what is his name, anyway?) battling a boss who looks as though he could be related to Metroid‘s Ridley.

So, there you have it: Ample evidence that just because a game sucks its instruction manual doesn’t have to follow suit.

Note: This post will soon be published on my general gaming blog as part of that site’s “Manual Stimulation” (ha ha) series. Don’t worry, any future installments that relate to the PC Engine will be published here first.

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PCE Review #9: Wonder Momo

Game: Wonder Momo
Genre: Beat ’em up
Developer: Namcot
Publisher: Namcot
Format: HuCard
Release date: 1989

This game’s cover art is cute, as are its title and between-stage screens. Also, its main theme is appreciably jaunty, with a Mega Man-esque quality to it. Oh, and I basically got it for free (the person from whom I bought my PC Engine threw six games, including this one, into the package before shipping it). Sadly, those are the only positive things I can say about this particular HuCard. I have plenty of negative things to say about it, though. For starters, let’s go back to those graphics I mentioned in the first sentence of this write-up. Although I’d be hard-pressed to call them terrible, I have no such problem calling them antiquated and boring–especially when it comes to Wonder Momo‘s yawn-enducing backgrounds. As bad as the game’s visuals are, though, they’re works of art compared to its gameplay, which consists of the titular Momo high-kicking and jump-kicking one ambling, odd-looking enemy after another until she’s beaten enough of them to be whisked off to the next, claustrophobic stage. Every once in a while, a tornado whirls its way onto the scene, and if Momo touches it she turns into, well, I guess she turns into Wonder Momo. Regardless, she puts on a helmut, a pair of boots and wields some sort of hula-hoop-like weapon–and winds up barely more powerful than she was as Regular Ol’ Momo. Toss all of the above complaints into a blender and what do you get? You guessed it: A crappy beat ’em up that only should be added to your collection if your aim is to own each and every HuCard. Everyone else should avoid it like a pixelated plague.

See also: Previous PCE Reviews

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Three PC Engine games I want to like, but can’t

Although all of the games detailed in this post were developed by the folks at Namco/Namcot, don’t take that to mean that I dislike Namcot products. On the contrary, I consider some of the company’s games–especially classic ones like Dig Dug, Galaga, Mappy and Pac-Man–to be all-time favorites.

That said, the following trio of PC Engine releases are games that I’d love to call all-time favorites but can’t for a number of reasons.

1. Barunba (1990)

Why I want to like it: The game’s logo is pretty spiffy (I mean, it even has stars where the letters’ holes should be), as is its overall cover art, which showcases what seems to be Barunba‘s raison d’etre–its globe-shaped ship with its rotatable weapons.

Why I can’t: Unfortunately, said cover art is, by far, the best thing about this forced-scrolling shmup. Its graphics can only be described as ugly, and its sound effects are just this side of ear-splitting. The worst part of this pixelated package, though, is that it’s flat-out boring thanks in large part to some overly long and uninspired levels.

2. Pac-Land (1989)

Why I want to like it: I distinctly remember seeing this game for the first time in a local arcade. “It’s like Pac-Man mixed with Super Mario Bros!” I thought with equal parts amazement and wonder. Superficially, that thought was spot-on, as Pac-Land looks exactly like you’d expect a Pac-Man-based platformer from the 8-bit era to look.

Why I can’t: Then I played it. To say I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be would be a massive understatement. The graphics are pretty dull, but I’d happily put up with them if the gameplay weren’t even duller–not to mention overly difficult. That rather brutal combination keeps me from playing it more than once or twice a year–and even then I only do so for a few minutes (which is how long it takes me to remember that the game is an absolute turd).

3. Wonder Momo (1989)

Why I want to like it: I hate to sound like a broken record, but Wonder Momo shares a number of traits with Barunba. Specifically, it has cute cover art … and that’s about it. OK, so it also has a cute protagonist.

Why I can’t: A cute protagonist doesn’t mean much, though, when the game she stars in is a complete and utter bore. It means even less when said game features iffy controls (Wonder Momo‘s jump kick is the worst offender here) and yawn-inducing enemy designs and backdrops.

I can’t publish this post without mentioning that I originally intended to include The Tower of Druaga, too, but after picking up and playing it for the first time in a number of months (if not years) I discovered that the game isn’t as bad as I thought it was. In fact, I now quite like it–although I can understand why many feel otherwise.

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PCE Review #6: Pro Tennis World Court


Game:
Pro Tennis World Court
Genre: Sports
Developer: Namcot
Publisher: Namcot
Format: HuCard
Release date: 1988

Pro Tennis World Court is widely known–to 16-bit afficionados, at least–as “the tennis RPG.” There’s a good reason for that: Along with the expected singles and doubles modes, this Namcot-published game features a “quest” mode that tasks players with wandering the Final Fantasy-esque lands of the creatively named (or not) “Tennis Kingdom” in search of the “Evil Tennis King.” (I’m not making this up–check out this blog post for more on this title’s sad excuse for a backstory.) Before you can challenge this lizard-like baddie (he’s green) to a Nadal-Federer-ish face-off, you’ll have to vanquish a number of his minions in tennis matches of varying lengths. You’ll also have to upgrade your equipment (rackets, shoes and shirts–which boost your power, foot speed and ability to refuse challenges, respectively) using the winnings you receive after beating the aforementioned, randomly-encountered foes. All in all, it’s an enjoyably unique, if slightly unpolished (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you approach your first NPC), experience. You’ll have to be patient if you want to eke every last ounce of fun out of the game, though, as it starts rather slowly. Thankfully, things speed up appreciably once you update your gear a bit. Even then, Pro Tennis World Court (World Court Tennis in the States) never feels quite as slick as another well-known PC Engine title featuring fuzzy, yellow balls–Final Match Tennis–but its quirkiness at least partially makes up for it.

See also: Previous PCE Reviews

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PCE Review #4: Obocchama Kun

Game: Obocchama Kun
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Pack-in Video
Publisher: Namcot
Format: HuCard
Release date: 1991

My first reaction upon playing this bizarre, Namcot-published platformer was, “Oh, hell no.” For starters, it’s kind of ugly. Not Superman 64 ugly, mind you, but it’s definitely uglier than your typical 16-bit game. That’s due, in large part, to the game’s homely protagonist–who bears a striking resemblance to Eddie Munster–as well as its garish use of color. The thing is, after a while you get over the hideousness of it all (or at least I did) and that’s when you realize that this Pack-in Video-developed title’s actually pretty fun. Even better, it’s interesting. It certainly isn’t the kind of me-too, mascot-centric platformer that clogged store shelves–and brought the genre to its knees–back in the 1990s. That’s evident from the start of the very first level, when a seizure-inducing scene introduces each of the stage’s featured enemies. Also setting this game apart from the platforming pack: The heavily browed Obocchama Kun doesn’t just grab power-ups like the protagonists in other, more predictable examples of the genre; rather, he beckons them by jumping onto what looks like a giant turtle shell and striking a decidedly Elvis-esque pose. Sometimes those poses produce power-ups and sometimes they summon allies–such as a blue-coifed bodybuilder, a crying teen who throws what appears to be hairbrushes and a helicopter-piloting Russian–that assist you through the stage at hand. Obocchama Kun‘s bosses–including what can only be called a chicken choker–are a similarly eccentric bunch. The game’s sometimes-slippery controls can make those encounters–and the stages that lead up to them–a bit more challenging than they would be otherwise, but even that quibble doesn’t keep it from being an enjoyably odd experience.

See also: Previous PCE Reviews

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