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Gems In The Rough: Yesterday's Concepts Mined For Today
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Gems In The Rough: Yesterday's Concepts Mined For Today

January 6, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Esper Boukentai

Jaleco, 1986

In a Nutshell: An expanded sequel to the arcade game Psychic 5, Esper Boukentai is a fairly standard platform action game where the player character can make huge jumps several stories tall, which are needed in order to navigate the giant vertically-oriented levels.

Legacy: Besides being of a general low quality, Esper Boukentai was ragged on for being vague and having arbitrarily-placed enemies (from a cast of rogue household appliances), and few clues to tell you where to go, as numerous doors are placed around the game world that hide items needed to continue past level barriers).

Not to mention that the jumping is totally overwrought. It seems completely unnecessary in practice, which is what brings the game down, because it could have been easily done without the crazy jumping or vertical maze-like levels.

What to Consider: "With great power comes great responsibility." These days, games with super-powered characters fall into the category of open-world titles (inFamous; Prototype), but they usually have environments that support them well.

But even if you want to make a 2D linear platformer like Boukentai, crazy abilities can be fun and make an indelible impression as long as the levels are properly designed around them, including a semblance of cohesion, and not the sprawling towers of Boukentai. If you ever used a Game Genie to make Mario "moon jump," you'll already understand.

Super Pitfall

Pony Canyon, 1987

In a Nutshell: An underground action-adventure that has a very loose link to Activision's series, notably Pitfall II more than its predecessor. Hero Harry must rescue his niece, his feral animal friend, and grab the lustrous Raj Diamond in an underground cavern that approaches the center of the earth.

Legacy: By no means is Super Pitfall good. In fact, it's not unfair to call it one of the worst NES games. The animation is terrible, the physics are terrible, the graphics are more Super Mario Bros. than Pitfall, and it's vague to the point of infuriating -- special items needed to complete the game are invisible, and only able to appear by jumping around where they hide. The open-ended subterranean world is a few degrees more subtle than Metroid, with not as many necessary barriers -- the kind that keep the player on some sort of path to victory.

What to Consider: Or rather, does Super Pitfall even have anything worth considering? Well, nothing too obvious, but there might be something there. By looking at it a little deeper, one can grasp a certain way of designing exploration-heavy games like Super Pitfall.

Without a manual, map, or strategy guide, Super Pitfall becomes a pure trial-and-error expedition of the underground, with a certain (yet low) degree of discovery and magic moments (again, a low degree). With that in mind, one could make a game that jets ahead of Super Pitfall and gets as close to a "sandbox" as possible, with a loose goal that couples true exploration with graphics and physics that are actually good.

The indie game classic Cave Story blows away Super Pitfall, but it still can't escape being compared to Metroid, and part of that comparison is the way it strikes a balance between knowing where to go and still having cool stuff to find -- whether it's a power-up, a funny character, or just a scenic area to admire.

And even though the maps of Super Pitfall's areas are a series of rectangular passageways, unimaginatively designed in some sort of "rack" formation, had it actually possessed some true character, it may not have turned out quite as bad as it did.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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