Arcade – Capcom Sports Club: Dunk Stars Review

The CPS2 arcade game Capcom Sports Club attached to an HDMI-supergun

Note 1: This arcade game is a Japanese CPS2 arcade board. CPS2 boards are made with a battery that, if not replaced before it dies, will cause the arcade board to no longer function.  This game’s dead battery was removed and, to my knowledge, repaired with something called the avalaunch code, which no longer makes the CPS2 board require a battery at all.  *This is not the same as a ‘phoenixed’ CPS2 board. There is a lot of great information on the internet about CPS2 arcade boards and the issues with their ‘suicide’ batteries and ways to repair them or have them repaired.

Note 2: This arcade board was connected to a HDMI-supergun (a device that allows you to play arcade games/boards on your television).  It was connected to a 39-inch HD-tv.  The supergun device has 2 controller ports for Neo Geo arcade sticks.  I could probably do a review on the HDMI-supergun itself, which is an incredible device in its own right.

Note 3: I do apologize for the quality of the ‘action’ pictures of the game.  You cannot pause an arcade game, so getting a great picture, using my simple methods, is tough.  The game itself, especially played through a HDMI-supergun, looks spectacular, as I hope you can see from the pictures I have included.

Dunk Stars is one of three sports games in Capcom Sports Club.

Note 4: Capcom Sports Club includes 3 games: Dunk Stars (Basketball), Smash Stars (Tennis), and Kick Stars (Soccer).  This review is only for Dunk Stars, although I do have this to write about the other two games.

Dunk Stars and Smash Stars are incredible winners.  Kick Stars? Not so much.

Smash Stars – Amazing tennis game where you choose a woman from among multiple countries and play in a tournament.  Win 3 games, and you’ll be the champion!  Fantastic control, awesome gameplay, and a great variety of women to choose among, each with her own strengths and weaknesses.  A great game that I intend to play more often and discover its nuances.

Kick Stars – The worst game of the bunch.  A mini-soccer game that also plays in a tournament style, with 3 games-to-the-championship.  Oddly, unlike Dunk Stars, the players are very ‘clunky’ in their movements and the game lacks the fluidity of the basketball game.  Passing is often difficult to accurately execute, and a weird ‘jump’ button is included that is mostly unneeded, and would have better served being a ‘turbo’ or ‘air pass’ button.  I’ve tried to figure out a way to enjoy it or find something redeeming about it, but it’s just not that great, and certainly not compared to the other two outstanding games included on Capcom Sports Club.

You’ll get ‘hints’ following wins or losses from the ‘Coach.’  This is the only in-game Japanese you’ll find.  While it’s not anything critical, if you pay attention to the English buttons (ABC in this picture’s case), you’ll pick up on the few nuances of the controls without knowing the language!

Brief History: Capcom Sports Club was released in 1997.  The game was released in various regions, but the version I am reviewing is the Japanese version (Japanese CPS2 boards came in the green shells, while U.S. and Europe CPS2 games came in blue shells).  The only parts of the game that include Japanese are little messages the female ‘coach’ character gives you after you win or lose a match.  While it seems like these are supposed to be some helpful hints, they in no way impact your ability to figure out how to play any of the games.  Additionally, CPS2 arcade boards have a ‘Test’ button on the side that allows you to alter certain game options, like difficulty level, how many coins to enter for a play, etc.  All of these directions are in Japanese as well, but with a little bit of common sense I was very easily able to figure out how to set the game to ‘Free Play’ (meaning you don’t have to press the ‘insert coin’ button at all) and set the difficulty (‘1’ is the easiest and ‘4’ is the hardest).  The board will save your settings for next time, too (unless you play another CPS2 game, or ‘B’ Board). *Later, I actually used ‘Google Translate’ to screen shot the Japanese Test menus for even more clarity on what options were available.

The CPS2 ‘Test’ menu is in Japanese, but it’s not tough to figure out how to set things like ‘Free Play’ and difficulty level.

Gameplay: There are two play options in Dunk Stars: 1 Player Tournament and 2 Player VS.  In the Tournament mode, you’ll choose from among 8 international teams: Japan, Korea, China, Italy, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and the USA.  Each team is composed of 3 players.  After choosing your team, you’ll play an 8-team bracket tournament.  You start in a quarterfinal, then move to a semifinal, and ultimately the championship game.  Each game lasts for 2 minutes, and there are no “halves” like in other basketball games.  Win the 3 games, and you’ll be the champ!

Pass, shoot, block, steal, use turbo speed – simple and fun gameplay!

Controls: Dunk Stars uses 3 buttons, aside from the joystick.  Since my supergun uses a Neo Geo controller, that’s how I’ll be describing each button’s function.  On offense, Button A shoots, Button B passes, and Button C uses your ‘turbo,’ (makes your player run faster, and is unlimited).  Additionally, you can perform an ‘alley-oop’ (complete with an incredibly bad English “AH-REE-OOP!” soundbite by pressing A + B).  In order for this to work, you’ll need to use it when you have one of your teammates near the basket to grab and dunk the ball – otherwise, the ball will fall pitifully short of the basket and your shooter will hang his head in shame – it’s hilarious.  Wait for a player under the basket to ‘signal’ the shooter by waving his hand – then immediately hit A + B to throw it up for him.  On defense, Button A blocks (used when an offensive player shoots – you’ll jump up and attempt to block the shot – if done correctly, you’ll literally snatch the ball out of the air), Button B steals (used when an offensive player is dribbling the ball – you’ll swat or throw an elbow to dislodge the ball and take possession of it), and Button C uses your turbo.  Also, hold A + B + C on defense to ‘recharge’ your defense and stamina (increasing your stamina also makes your shots more likely to go in).  You’ll see all your players raise their hands and glow.

Find a team with the kind of players you think make champions!

Teams: The 8 teams in Dunk Stars are all different, although it’s not so obvious just how different until you play a few games.  Each team is composed of 3 players, and each player falls into 1 of 4 cateorgies:

1. Guard – The fastest players on the court (they can move as fast as Forwards without even pressing the ‘turbo’ button!), but the absolute worst shooters.  You can count on them for dunking and close-range jump shots, but FORGET about taking three-pointers with them.

2.  Forward – The 2nd fastest players on the court.  Average shooter, but not a high percentage 3-point shooter.

3.  Center – The 3rd fastest players on the court.  Good shooter from nearly anywhere and can make 3’s more consistently than a Forward, but it’s never guaranteed.

4.  Shooter – The absolute SLOWEST players on the court.  Really, really slow compared to the others.  But they can BURY 3-pointers consistently if you can give them a good look.

Some teams have 3 different types of players, while others have 2 of the same types of players (China, for example, has 2 Shooters), so it’s really fun to explore the game and find a team that works best for you. On the court, a letter (G, F, C, or S) appears above the head of whoever you’re controlling for convenience.

Courts: A few different courts are available, including a traditional blacktop, seaside court, and a court that is made on top of a skyscraper construction site!

Win the Tournament and accrue over $200,000 and you’ll be challenged by the Golden USA Team.

Golden USA: Based on how badly you beat your opponents, you are given “money” after each of your 3 games in the Tournament.  If that sum total goes over $200,000, you will be challenged by the Golden USA team following your third game.  They are TOUGH and AGGRESSIVE.  You play them on a special ‘street’ court at night, and it’s by far the best court in the game.

Golden USA is TOUGH, and they play on an awesome looking street court.

2 Player VS: 2 Player games vary a bit from the 1 Player Tournament.  Instead of being only 2 minutes, VS. games are 3 minutes long.  Before the game begins, you can choose to ‘handicap’ one team by giving them a set number of points before the game even starts.  So, for example, if you’re playing with someone who’s never played before you can start the game with them already having 6 points and you having zero.  The game also keeps track of your win streak in 2 Player VS.

You’ll get brief stats after games.

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter GradeA+ Dunk Stars is an incredible arcade basketball game.  It’s fast, the controls are outstanding, the graphics are cartoony and ‘loud’ (all kinds of explosions go off when you dunk, or ‘fans’ jump in front of the screen when you make a good shot).  There are some outstanding ‘bad English’ voiceovers during gameplay that add to the charming nature of the game.  You can set the difficulty if it gets too easy, although even on the lowest difficulty Golden USA is a beast to beat.  It’s a shame this game has never gotten any attention, seemingly from anywhere, because it’s that good (in the amazingly simple way arcade games should be).  Recommended.

Dunks and great shots result in explosive celebrations.

SNES – Ball Bullet Gun Review

B.B.Gun for the Super Nintendo

Note 1: This game is an SNES reproduction.  It was played on the Analogue Super NT console.  It was connected to a 39-inch HD-tv through an HDMI cable.

Note 2: This will be a mini review, and a rather simplistic overview of the game. There is an excellent FAQ online with more great info on this game.

Creating your own mini army adds to the immediate appeal of B.B. Gun.

Brief History: Ball Bullet Gun: Survival Game Simulation was released for the Super Famicom in Japan in 1995.  It was never officially translated and did not receive an official U.S. release.  Today, however, the game has been (wonderfully) translated into English, and can now be played on the SNES.

Genre: Strategy RPG

Players: 1 or 2 Player VS. *This review, for now, solely focuses on the 1P campaign.

Saving: The game saves automatically after every Mission you complete.  You can also save in the middle of a Mission and come back later; this is useful as some Missions can last close to an hour, depending on how you play and the size of the Map for an individual Mission.

Gameplay:  In B.B. Gun, you must first create a team of soldiers for your own personal army.  You must give your team/army a name, and then select 8 soldiers from a large pool of combatants.  Your first choice is your Leader – this soldier is always in on every Mission.  You are able to select other soldiers based on specific criteria, including Attack Power, Defense Ability, number of HP (Hit Points), and ‘Search’ Ability (field of vision range).  You are able to name your soldiers as well, or simply use their given ‘code names.’

You’ll face several different Enemy Teams in the game’s 24 Missions.

Next, you’re ready to begin your Missions.  You select between 2 and 6 soldiers (each Mission has a set number of soldiers you can use) in individual ‘simulated battle’ scenarios.  Your team faces off against the Enemy Team, and both teams have an objective to complete in order to win the battle.  There are 24 different Missions to complete in the game, sectioned off into Easy, Normal, and Hard (8 Missions each).

Letters, between A-E, indicate how likely you are to score a hit on an Enemy in your field of vision.

Some of the Missions include: Flag Battle, where the first team to touch their enemy’s flag wins; Rescue the Hostage, where your team must secure a hostage, keep him from then getting gunned down by the Enemy Team, and take him safely back to your base; No Man Left Standing, where you must take out every member of the opposing team, as well as others!

Carefully choose how to use each of your soldiers’ Action Points (AP) on each turn; for your first few turns, you will mostly use AP to move your soldiers across the Map.

This is a Strategy game, so each team takes turns.  The settings of the Missions vary from offices, to jungles, to snow fields.  Your team always goes first, and each of your soldiers has a set number of Action Points (AP) per turn.  Action Points allow your soldier to Move, Attack, Charge (Reload), Search (look for enemies in a specific cardinal direction), or use a Special (a character specific move like Replenish Health or using Grenades).

You typically begin each Mission by moving your soldiers across the Map, searching for or being on the lookout for Enemy Team soldiers.  B.B. Gun is a ‘fog of war’ game, so you won’t be able to see any enemy soldiers until they enter one of your soldiers field of vision (or, his ‘Search’ screen, which is indicated by illuminated squares on screen – some soldiers have bigger fields of visions than others).

Learn to evaluate guns based on their range, capacity, and charge (reload) AP requirement.

Once you see an enemy, you’ll often want to try to attack him or her IF you have enough AP (Action Points) on that turn to finish him off with Attacks, or if you have another one of your soldiers nearby to help.  If you choose to Attack, you can use a ‘Main’ Arm (big gun, like a machine gun or shotgun) or a ‘Side’ Arm (like a pistol or a knife).  All soldiers, both on your team and the Enemy Team, have a set number of HP (Hit Points), typically between 4 and 7.  You must attack Enemy Team soldiers until their HP reaches 0 to eliminate them from the Mission!

Different soldiers in your army are more or less effective when it comes to long and short range attacks.  When you attack an Enemy, depending on how close you are once he’s in your field of vision, you’ll see a letter between A-E on screen if you’re able to reach him with a gunshot.  ‘A’ indicates a high probability of a hit, while ‘E’ indicates a low probability.  Additionally, before Missions begin, you can select from a pool of Main Arms and Side Arms, all of which vary in their range and capacity – some guns have great range, but a small capacity or magazine, meaning you’ll need to reload, or charge, them more frequently after firing them.

When it’s the Enemy Team’s turn, you can’t see them on the Map (that would make the game too easy), but you’ll know when they’ve seen you, as they usually don’t hesitate to open fire!

When it’s the Enemy Team’s ‘turn,’ you won’t be able to see where his soldiers are moving on the main Map; instead, the screen swaps to a ‘stage’ scene, where you can view each Enemy Team members’ turn and how they’re using their Action Points.  *You CAN listen to the sounds the Enemy Team soldiers make when they’re walking – this may indicate if they’re treading through tall grass or crossing a river, which can give you an indication of where they may be on the map. *Note – you can also view the entire map, minus the locations of the Enemy Team, at any time when it’s your team’s turn.

New soldiers will join your army periodically.  Additionally, scoring 3,500 or more in a Mission increases one of your soldier’s abilities!

After completing certain missions, you’ll ‘win’ new guns that will be added to your gun pool, or, on a few occasions, former Enemy Team soldiers will join your squad – these soldiers often have better abilities than your own original selections, and you’ll use them often!

Each Mission has a set number of Turns before the Mission ends.  If you don’t complete your objective in the given number of turns, you lose.

The ‘Challenge’ label in the screen above indicates how many ‘Tries’ you’ve had on a Mission.

Scores: After completing a Mission, you’ll be given a score based on how many ‘turns’ it took you to complete the Mission, how many of your own soldiers were killed, and how many of the Enemy Team soldiers you killed.  If you manage to get a score totaling 3,500 or more, you’ll receive a ‘Star’ medal, and one of your soldier’s abilities will increase by a point (ex. Accuracy, Evasion, Hit Points, etc.).  Scores lower than 3,500 receive gold, silver, or bronze medals.  Once I got what I think was a ‘Kitty Face’ sticker for a score that was around 1,500.

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade:  A+ Ball Bullet Gun: Survival Simulation Game took hold of me like few ‘old’ games have.  I’d never played Strategy games before, but I liked the look of this one, so I wanted to give it a try.  The first few tries, I thought, “Wow, this is boring,” and I got frustrated when I’d lose a Mission because my last soldier couldn’t finish off the enemy from one space away.  But I stuck with it.  I figured out how to equip my soldiers with the right guns, how to pair off certain soldiers together, how to make use of Special abilities – and I LOVED this game.  It requires, to some extent, some luck, in addition to your careful planning – the Enemy Team is no slouch on many of the Missions, and the game often handicaps you, giving your team one less man or woman than the Enemy Team (or 3 or 4 less on the Hard Missions).  But it is FUN, and the thrill of finally beating a Mission (particularly one you’ve lost multiple times on) is awesome.

The soldiers themselves have an incredible charm to them as well.  They’re huge and full of life.  The game has excellent replay value as well, as there are incentives to replay Missions in order to get a score over 3,500 in order to ‘Level Up’ your soldiers.  The translation is perfect (although there is some type of language glitch on the ‘Shoot the Cans‘ mission that doesn’t affect gameplay).  Highly, highly recommended game that is one of the best SNES games I’ve ever played!  

Get a ‘win’ however you can – that sometimes means sacrificing a solider or three!

SNES – Terranigma Review

Revive the World in Terranigma for the SNES.

Note 1: This game was played on the Analogue Super NT.  It was connected to a 39-inch HD-tv through an HDMI cable.

Note 2: This game is an SNES reproduction; the game was translated into English, but never officially released in North America.

Note 3: This will be a ‘mini’ review of Terranigma.  There are absolutely more informative websites on the internet with info on this game.  However, this is one gamer’s experience with Terranigma.  I completed the game in around 20 hours.

Note 4: The name of this game is quite intriguing; I look at the two words – Terra – land or earth (I always think of ‘Tara,’ or the land owned by the O’Hara’s in Gone with the Wind) and ‘Enigma,’ as the proper spelling would be – a puzzle or a riddle or a mystery – and find this an amazing and extremely appropriate title for this game, even if it’s one that, I wonder, left and leaves gamers in the past, present, and future wondering, “Wait, what?” One of the best video game names, if not the best, that I’ve ever read or seen.

If you’re not playing SNES games on the Analogue Super NT in (non-emulated) HD, well, I would recommend it!

Genre: Action-adventure RPG

Players: 1

Brief History: Terranigma, or Tenchi Sozo (The Creation of Heaven and Earth) was originally released in Japan in 1995.  The game is part of the Soul Blazer Trilogy, with Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia preceding Terranigma, both of which received a U.S. release.  The former two games are not a pre-requisite to enjoying Terranigma.

As you revive the World (Planet Earth), you’ll traverse it by ship, by plane, and even by seagull!

Very Brief Story Synopsis : The main character in Terranigma is Ark (you can change his name).  After opening a mysterious (and forbidden) box in a locked room in your village, you must undertake the task of RESURRECTING THE WORLD, which, at the beginning of the game, doesn’t appear to actually exist beyond your underground village.     Throughout the course of the game, you will revive plants, animals, and ultimately, the human race, which will consequently “develop” or “evolve” as a civilization.  It’s a neat idea, and one I had not seen in an SNES game before.

The game, despite it’s sometimes aloof and comical protagonist, has a serious story.

Very Brief Gameplay Synopsis: You control Ark throughout the adventure.  Ark attacks almost exclusively with a spear, and as you play, you’ll find or buy spear upgrades to strengthen your attack.  You have a variety of spear attacks, such as dash attacks and jumping attacks.  One unique addition to this game that I don’t recall seeing before, is the ability to BLOCK. By pressing button R, you can use a shield to block most projectile attacks – it’s quite useful against most enemies, including bosses, and one of my favorite features of the game!

The other “weapon” you have in the game is your magic.  As you play, you’ll often find “Magirocks” that, when in town shops, can be (combined with a few gold pieces) traded for “rings” that cast different spells.  Also, in the “magic” department, you can also buy, find, or are given “Pins” that serve purposes like taking you back to the entrance of a dungeon or castle.  Honestly, during my entire playthrough, I probably used the magic system 5 times; it just isn’t needed – almost at all.  As long as you leveled up and strengthend Ark, there was no need for anything except your current spear/rod/stabbing device on regular enemies or bosses, and the Pins went equally unused.

You’ll acquire Armor and Weapons as the game progresses – it’s a simple and effective process to know if they’re needed, as an arrow will pop up to show you if something is worth equipping.

Saving: During your playthrough, you can save the game at open books, initially located in the wilderness as you resurrect the world, and subsequently located in Inns as humans come into the picture.  There are often times when finding a save book is sorely needed, yet finding one is difficult.  Rarely, if ever, was a save book found in a dungeon/castle/hostile environment, so save when you can!

Leveling Up: Strengthening Ark is quite easy; every enemy you defeat gives you experience points (EXP), and you shouldn’t face too many deaths in the game if you spend a bit of time grinding on the constantly re-spawing enemies.  A few of the bosses are tough if you haven’t gained significant levels.  *Regular enemies will also often drop gold, which you can use in shops for Armor and health items.

Level up Ark, and nothing presents any real danger to you, even the final boss!

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade: I was expecting great things from Terranigma after reading other information on the Internet – and therein lies the danger, I suppose, in letting others influence you (the same way I’m doing, ironically and hypocritically, of course!).  However, I can only say Terranigma was “pretty good.”  It was fun most of the time, but there were points where I simply had no clue where to go next or how to advance – not uncommon with SNES RPGs, but other games in the genre provide better clarity and better pacing than this one.

   Additionally, the last 3rd of the game REALLY slowed down – too much.  Without spoiling too much, it was fun reviving plants and animals, but by the time the human race was revived, the game became bogged down in mundane fetch quests and the dungeon exploring and boss fighting lessened significantly.  Had the back end of the game tightened up in it’s crescendo towards the climax rather than stalling, I might have enjoyed it more.

   That said, the story IS amazing.  The resurrection of the world?  Crazy, and awesome.  The story in the final events (in spite of the human civilization fetch quests preceding them) is enrapturing, bizarre, and ambiguous to an extent, leaving you thinking about what the whole game meant, almost like a novel – I haven’t encountered this too often in video games, and only ever in a handful of RPGs.  *As a side note, I’m not sure how well the whole “resurrection of the world/being a god” would have gone over had this game been released in the U.S. (also, there are some things that wouldn’t have gone over well with Nintendo of America, including an image of a crucified Jesus in a church and a smoking merchant – but that makes playing it, as a U.S. player, more fun).  

   There are some beautiful images of the evolving world and some excellent musical tracks, and those really added to the experience.  

    All things considered, I had, as mentioned, a “pretty good” time with Terranigma.  Was it a Chrono Trigger (if you’re familiar with that excellent SNES game)? No, definitely not.  Better than Illusion of Gaia or Secret of Evermore?  Yes, a bit, probably.  As good as A Link to the Past or Secret of Mana?  No, but close. 

Letter Grade: B 

Final version of Dark Gaia – BLOCK his major attack in order to take less damage, and back up so he’ll come in close so you can attack his stomach.

SNES – Go! Go! Ackman

Go! Go! Ackman was brilliantly translated into English.  It looks great in HD on the Analogue Super NT.

Note 1This game was played on the Analogue Super NT console.  It was connected to a 39-inch HD-tv through HDMI.

Note 2This version of Go! Go! Ackman is an SNES reproduction that has been translated to English.  Thank you, translators!!!

Note 3There is other great information for this game online, as well as the two sequels (both of which, as of this review in June 2018, have unfortunately not been translated to English).  This review, however, will try to provide information that is not available on other sites (that I’ve found), specifically regarding gameplay.



Brief OverviewGo! Go! Ackman was released for the Japanese Super Famicom in 1994.  It was never released in the U.S.  The game is based on a short manga (a style of Japanese comics).  I have not read the manga; however, from what I have gathered, the game follows the original comic story.

You play as a ‘demon’ in Go! Go! Ackman, but the ‘angels’ you’re fighting are no saints!

StoryAckman (pronounced ‘Ah-key-mahn,’ I believe), a demon, wakes from a 50-year nap to gather souls for his Master.  With him is Godon, a small red demon who carries a jar for collecting souls.  Standing in the way of Ackman is Tenshi, an angel who loathes Ackman, and Michaela, the ‘Great Angel’ and Superior of Tenshi.  Of the two (Tenshi and Michaela), Tenshi is the primary antagonist, and he frequently hires or enlists goons (Bosses) to take out Ackman.  Interestingly, the ‘angels’ are anything but ‘good’ or ‘pure,’ and are depicted as dastardly and scheming!  So fear not if you happen to be thinking, “A game where I have to fight angels?  I don’t know…”  These guys are ‘angels’ in name only!  And the ‘souls’ Ackman collects are only from the goons of Tenshi, who were up to no good in any event.

5 Levels of Platforming await – Beat the first Level Boss for a Bonus Life Bar Unit (or two)!

Levels5 Levels (composed almost like chapters, with cut scenes and dialogue preceding and after each one, as well as between some sub-stages), make up the game. 2-3 short sub-stages make up each Level.

Level 1- Angel’s Test

Level 2 – Michaela’s Plan

Level 3 – Cursed Ruin

Level 4 – Underground Trap

Level 5 – Devils vs. Angels

Sub-stages of some Levels have you on a vehicle, such as a car, a raft, or a helicopter platform!

Control: You can change the button inputs in the Options menu, but Y is attack (punch), B is jump (hold B in Level 4 to use your jetpack to temporarily fly), and A throws a bomb (limited supply).  L makes Ackman dash; Ackman will dash after a few steps on his own, but this allows you to take off from a standing position, which can come in handy (I prefer changing this function to button R).  Holding Y will power up Ackman to throw a projectile ‘wave.’  Jumping then pressing Y will execute a jump kick, and ducking and pressing Y will execute a sweeping kick.

There are some absolutely bizarre mid-bosses and Bosses – they add a ton of character to Go! Go! Ackman.

Difficulty: You can change the difficulty between Easy and Normal.  There are several differences between the two difficulties.

Easy – Ackman begins with a 6-unit Life Bar.  He begins with 3 bombs and can max them out at 5.  There are fewer enemies than on Normal.  There are fewer obstacles than on Normal.  There are no choices that create branching paths on Easy.  You’ll get to see the complete ending, but the final screen will tell you to try the Normal mode.

Normal – Ackman begins with a 4-unit Life Bar.  He begins with 1 bomb and can max them out at only 3.  There are more obstacles to overcome, including sinking platforms in the water sub-stage, spinning ‘ball ‘n chains,’ collapsing bridges, extending and falling spikes, and a darkening pyramid in Stage 3 (Godon carries a torch for Ackman, and if you get too far away from him, the screen will go dark – this doesn’t happen on Easy).  There are more enemies, and they are often placed in more precarious locations than on Easy.  There are also additional different enemies that are not found in the Easy mode, including the Bee in Stage 2 and the anthropomophic Ice Cream in Stage 3 (it’s out of place, even in this odd game, and hilarious).  There are choices you can make (additional dialogue) that lead to different sub-stages on Normal.  The first choice always leads to the sub-stage you play on Easy, and the second choice would be a sub-stage you have no access to while playing on Easy.  The final screen after completing the game on Normal shows your total ‘Soul Points.’  I’m not sure if by perhaps hitting a certain total, perhaps there’s some reward or additional scene?

The Gun is a great weapon for distance attacks while you’re on the move – one hit though, and you’ll lose it, so memorize the locations of the enemies in each Level.

Items and WeaponsIn each stage, either out in the open or sometimes in ‘hidden’ locations that you can discover with a bit of exploration, you’ll find various items to help Ackman.  These include a Heart that replenishes one unit of Life, an Energy Drink that completely restores Ackman’s health, extra Bombs, and a single Extra Life.  You’ll also find a Sword, a Boomerang, or a Gun.  These weapons greatly enhance Ackman’s attack range, and each one acts as an additional health unit (you’ll lose the weapon after a hit, but you won’t lose a health unit).  Lastly, you’ll occasionally find a Skull icon that grants you invincibility for 5 or 6 seconds – you can just run right through enemies!

Search for Power-Ups in out-of-the-way places; the Skull grants temporary invincibilty.

GameplayYou’ll run, jump, and attack your way through each of the 5 Levels. *You can jump on the heads of smaller grounded enemies and then kick them as well (think Mario jumping on a Koopa).  Each Level has a mid-boss (or two) before the primary Boss.  Along the way, with each enemy you defeat, Godon will snatch their ‘soul,’ and after you reach 100, you’ll gain an extra life.  You have unlimited Continues, but you’ll go back to the beginning of a Level’s sub-stage when you die, or if you lose all of your lives (you begin with 3 lives) and choose to continue.  Some sub-stages have you riding in a vehicle of some kind.  As you learn how the game works, you’ll often get to an end-of-level Boss and lose, and then have to replay that Level’s final sub-stage before getting another crack at the Boss.  Memorization and classic ‘trial and error’ are a part of this game.

Bring the Sword to the Dragon fight and it’ll be over before he gets an attack in!

HintsGo! Go! Ackman is not overly difficult, but I did die repeatedly on the 3rd through 5th Levels many times as I was learning their layouts and Boss patterns.  Particularly, Level 5 took me a while to beat because the last Boss was tough at first – now he’s a piece of cake.  Like most games of this nature, with a little perseverance you can dominate the game easily.  However, here are some hints that may help you:

  1. Extended Life Bar –  If you beat the first Boss, a giant wolf, quickly, you’ll get an extra unit of life or two (an extension to your life bar).  You need to beat him with 176 seconds or more left on the Timer.  You’ll lose one extension every time you die, but this greatly helps.  I couldn’t make this happen with the other bosses even when I beat them quickly, but it may be possible.
  2. Re-spawning Bombs and Hearts – In each level, you’ll encounter enemies who will drop Hearts or Bombs.  Instead of picking up just one, however, if you head back to your left, then back again, the enemy will re-spawn and still drop the item when defeated.  It’s a great way to max out your Bombs or Life Bar.
  3. Use the Sword for a quick defeat of Doradoran – The Level 3 Boss, a huge red dragon named Doradoran, can be easily dispatched if you make it to the battle with the Sword.  Simply dash up to him and jump and whap him in the nose several times and he’ll be toast before he can even get an attack off!  The alternative here is to use your jetpack and fly up and kick him, which is much, much harder because he breathes fire.  *You should also have the sword for the fight with Tenshi and jump up and whack him a few times at the start of the fight.
  4. Use the Gun on Michaela and Armor Michaela – In the final sub-stage of Level 5, learn the location of the Gun and ensure you bring it to the last two Boss fights.  You’ll dispatch Michaela and Armor Michaela much easier.  Also, at first, the last fight against Armor Michaela appears to be really difficult – it’s not, at all.  Quickly see how his 3 attacks work, and jump up to the left hand platform when you can and blast away with the Gun after using all your Bombs.  Hop down if he gets too close, then hop back up when he moves to the right side of the screen to blast him again (also don’t forget to use your projectile attack – hold, then release Y – if you get hit and lose the gun).

Bring the Gun to the final two Boss fights and you’ll come out on top easily (with practice)!

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade

   Go! Go! Ackman is highly addictive.  Controlling Ackman is spot on, and the platforming is easy at times, but requires you to memorize patterns and locations as you get further into the game.  As you learn where enemies and pits are in each Level, you’ll often take hits or lose a life, but once you play each Level a few times, it becomes a breeze.  The game is much easier on Easy because of the extended Life Bar and fewer enemies and obstacles, so try that first.  By the time you can beat the game on that mode, you’ll be ready for Normal.  *Beating the bosses doesn’t require any more hits, regardless of the mode you’re on.

The characters and dialogue are what set this game apart from other Platformers.  Go! Go! Ackman is hilarious.  The exchanges in the cutscenes are quite memorable and build the story well.  I should note, there is some language (usually by the two primary ‘angels,’ interestingly), including the ‘S’ word a couple of times, but nothing worse than that.  In this game, however, the use of language makes since within its context, and, although I have not read the manga, I wouldn’t be surprised if it probably had mild language like this.  I would rate the game PG-13 in that regard. Game Rating: A

*Final Note on the sequels: I previously owned and played the sequel, Go! Go! Ackman 2 (of which there is no English-translated version as of June 2018), but I didn’t particularly enjoy it.  It was far more difficult from the first Level, and that frustrating difficulty continued throughout the game – it wasn’t the same as the frustration from the difficult parts of the first game either.  In Go! Go! Ackman, I wanted to keep playing to improve, but in Go! Go! Ackman 2, the difficulty just felt cheap and did not encourage improvement.  There is also a second sequel, Go! Go! Ackman 3, which I have not yet played.  I have read elsewhere, however, that it is much akin to the original game rather than 2.  There is no translated version of Go! Go! Ackman 3 as of June 2018.  But here’s hoping!!!

Once you master Easy, it won’t be long before you master Normal.

Turbografx-16 – Makai Hakkenden Shada

The English-translated version of Makai Hakkenden Shada for the Turbografx-16

Note 1: This game was played on a Turbografx-16 console that was modded to output in component video.  It was connected to a 32-inch HD tv that can output in 240p.  The game, Makai Hakkenden Shada, is an English-translated reproduction Turbochip made for play on the U.S. Turbografx-16 console.  The game was originally only released for the Japanese PC Engine (the name of the TG-16 in Japan) in 1989, but recently, some brilliant translators made it playable in English!  Thank you, translators!!!  Please keep translating these games!!  Your work is appreciated!

Note 2: This will not be a proper review, at least as of the first publishing – I have not yet completed this game, but I wanted to go ahead and give a bit of an overview of this obscure game.  There are a couple of other websites that delve into the history of the game and its source material (it’s evidently based on a classic, centuries-old novel that is well known in Japan).  This overview specifically focuses on general elements of the game itself.  Also, if you’re familiar with Ys Books I & II, a much more well-known Turbografx-CD game, Makai Hakkenden Shada shares many similarities with it.  This overview, however, will not compare the two, but rather provide information for this particular game, Makai Hakkenden Shada.

Story(*This is from what I’ve been able to compile in the few other places on the Internet that have helpful information, in English, on this game) Shin, your character in the game, is one of 8 mighty samurai warriors.  You must find your other 7 samurai brothers, and together, fight and seal away an evil being known as Tamazusa.  In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to find the 8 shada, or jewels, that have the power to banish Tamazusa.

GameplayShada is an action-RPG style game.  Your character, Shin, interacts with characters in villages and battles enemies in an overworld and within dungeons.  In villages, simply walking into NPCs that are outside of buildings causes you to talk to them (although sometimes you literally have to run over them a time or two to generate the dialogue box).  When you enter into open-door buildings, you’ll automatically have an interaction with the resident or shopkeeper.

You’ll buy weapons and armor in shops – grind money by fighting enemies constantly!

In the overworld, you’ll fight monsters in an unusual fashion – by walking into them! Your character does buy weapons, which he carries, but you do not need to press a button to attack an enemy.  You simply walk right into it, and depending on the angle you hit it, you’ll do a predetermined amount of damage.  Button II causes Shin to ‘search.’  If you are standing near a sign, you’ll read it; if you’re searching for an item, and you ‘search’ in the right place, you’ll find it.  For example, early in the game, if you look in the woods between a suspect looking tree formation, you’ll find a hoe, which can be given to a village resident in exchange for a cash reward.  Standing still will make your health bar slowly replenish.  Using Button I will fire a ‘magic attack’ once you acquire and equip particular Scrolls, some of which are offensive attacks.  These attacks reduce your health slightly with each use, but the trade-off is that that they’re typically more powerful than your ‘walk into the enemy’ attack, and you can attack from a distance.

Different ‘Scrolls,’ like the Shock Scroll, allow you to attack from a distance.  Also, in case you’re curious – The top bar is your experience bar that must fill before you level up, the middle bar is your life bar, the bottom bar is your enemy’s life bar, the top number is your gold, and the 8 circles/ovals on the left are your shada, or jewels, and how many you’ve acquired so far.

Leveling UpTo level up Shin, you simply have to keep fighting enemies.  There are three ‘bars’ on the bottom of the screen.  The top bar is your ‘experience bar.’  As you defeat enemies, it slowly lengthens.  When it fills completely, you’ll level up, increasing Shin’s defense and attack power.  However, you can’t always make the experience bar increase – you can’t just level all the way up to the highest point at the beginning of the game.  Most ‘areas’ only allow you level up a time or two until you advance the story or move to the next area.  However, it’s still beneficial to keep fighting enemies, even if you can’t level up anymore in a particular area, because every enemy you defeat adds to your money, which you’ll need a lot of in order to buy the strongest weapons and armor in villages.

This is your Inventory Screen.  Here, you can equip weapons and armor, view your current level and status, or use health items.  Also, in the top right box, you have your collected ‘idols.’  I’m not sure what purpose they serve as of yet.

ItemsThroughout Shada, you’ll find items in dungeons or the overworld, or you’ll be given them by various characters.  For example, in the first dungeon (which I’m almost sure is called the Devil’s Nest from what one character mentioned), you’ll find various Keys to open doors.  You have an item inventory screen, and you’ll often have several items at once, and some you’ll have to wrack your brain to figure out how and when to use them.

Armor and Weapons Players’ Tip – Grind gold early and often.  You’ll need to buy body armor, helmets, and swords – they’re not cheap.  Each new village offers upgrades to your current equipped items, although sometimes characters will just give you more powerful armor or swords.

Bosses: I’ve only fought one boss so far, in the Devil’s Nest.  I was leveled up as high as I could be, had all the best armor and weapons, and yet I still had to fight him several times before I won.  I’m not sure if all bosses are like this one, but you had to hit him in a very specific part of his head(s), and by running over him constantly, sometimes I’d connect, and sometimes he’d connect and deplete my life bar quickly.  Also, I was an unable to use my Scroll attacks during this boss fight, which was surprising and unwelcome.  This is where saving constantly comes in handy, because if you die, you can start back where you last saved, or in this case, right before the boss fight.

Save your game (receive a password) right before boss fights, just in case you die – you’ll re-start right in the spot where you last saved.

Do not let passwords deter you!  This one is long, but it provides a foolproof way to record your progress.

Passwords:  Makai Hakkenden Shada does allow saving – through passwords.  It’s a bit confusing, and one might think you could save to a Turbobooster-Plus (battery backup device), because the words ‘Save’ and ‘Load’ are on the password screen.  Unfortunately, selecting ‘Save’ simply gives you the password, and ‘Load’ starts the game from your last point after you enter the password.  However, the password save system does work great!  While the password is long (on par with War of the Dead – see my review!), it mostly only contains capital and lower case letters, and it can be put it in approximately 2 minutes, in my experience.  Not nearly as painful as War of the Dead.

Shortcomings in this game:  Having not yet completed this game, I’ve had a great time with it, for the most part.  However, there are a few things, like with most games, that are, to some extent, frustrating.  Although I’ve read it elsewhere that fighting is a frustrating experience, and while the ‘run into them’ strategy does takes some getting used to, I’ve found it works extremely well and is actually quite fun.  My main gripe is with interactions in the villages – it stinks having to ‘touch’ an NPC (who is often pacing around) to get them to talk to you (instead of pressing a button like in most RPGs).  Too many times, I’ve found myself having to repeatedly walk over these NPCs to get them to talk to me, and then I get ‘stuck’ and have to read their dialogue box multiple times as I slowly walk away from them; it’s a definite flaw that should have been fixed when this game was made.

A simple story without convoluted plot lines?  This is what the 1980s were all about in RPGs.

Also, it’s sometimes difficult in Shada to figure out just what the heck to do next.  Now, this isn’t a flaw, just a frustration – which used to be the best part of gaming!  I beat Zelda II after playing off and on for over a year (when I was under 10) without the Internet and it’s gaming FAQs (they weren’t close to existing) or any outside help whatsoever, and I have to remind myself of that sometimes.  Shada sometimes gives you clues of what to do next, but it’s up to you to figure it out, and it’s not always easy – I’m currently stuck in the “DON’T LET THE FIRE BURN’ maze, and the calvary’s not coming – I can’t find one single thing on the Internet to help me figure it out (and I’m honestly ashamed for having looked for help) – just luck, instinct, and determination will help.  It’s just like the good ol’ days before the Internet made us weak and dependent on someone else to have figured out games for us.  Not this time, though!

I hope the pseudo overview/review is useful to someone!

SNES – The Combatribes

Note 1: The SNES version of The Combatribes was played on an original model SNES console that has been modified to output in component video.  It was connected to a 32-inch HD tv that is capable of outputting the 240p component signal required for the game to display properly. *Upon looking at my SNES pictures, you may think, “That’s component video output?  It doesn’t look that great, especially compared to the HD output of the other game.”  You’re right, and it’s odd – I have a toploader NES component modded – it looks awesome, as good if not better than any HDMI modded NES.  I have a Turbografx-16 component modded – the picture looks absolutely spectacular.  But for some reason, this component modded SNES just doesn’t look that great.  Maybe it’s the tv, maybe it’s the mod.  My S-video cable honestly makes the picture look way better than my component video cables, which shouldn’t be the case, but is.  So, the moral of the story is, invest in an S-video cable for your original model SNES (if your tv accepts it), rather than having it component modded (my experience only, mind you!), or, wait for an HDMI-modded SNES console that runs original cartridges, as I’m sure we’ll see in the near future.  **Starting with the Stage 4 SNES pictures, I swapped back to S-video cables, and I think that improved the picture.  

Note 2: The arcade version of this game was played on the Retro-bit Retrocade system.  The Retrocade contains 90 arcade and console roms, including The Combatribes.  The console was connected to a 32-inch HD tv through HDMI.  As noted in my ‘About’ section, I don’t typically play through emulation; however, I loved The Combatribes for the SNES, and I wanted to see how it differed from the arcade version.

Note 3: This ‘review’ will be much less of a review than what I typically write.  My brief ‘review’ is just below.  This will, moreover, be a comparison between the SNES version and the arcade version, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.  So far, these are only some of the differences from the first 3 stages of the game, and I just did it for fun for anyone who might be interested. Enjoy!

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade of both the SNES and the arcade versions of The Combatribes B+ This is one excellent, underrated Beat ‘Em Up.  I suppose it’s relatively obscure, as far as name recognition.  Double DragonFinal Fight?  Most have heard of them, but I wasn’t familiar with The Combatribes until recently.  The action is a bit slow, but the stages are short, the sound effects are awesome in terms of feeling like you’re really pummeling someone, and the sprites are huge.  A gem among Beat ‘Em Ups.

Contrasts between the two versions

General:  In the arcade version, your health is represented by a score that decreases as you take damage.  In the SNES version, you have a standard ‘life bar.’  Also, the arcade version has no story whatsoever.  It’s unclear why you’re beating up all of these gangs.  The SNES version welcomingly adds a story, where (in short) you’re a cyborg tasked with discovering why the gangs of New York have united, and to take them out. There is blood in the arcade version when you slam a punk’s head into the pavement or bash two punks’ heads together.  Blood was removed from the SNES version.  The arcade version has a few additional moves that the SNES cut – kicking your opponent while he’s down (you can still do the ‘backbreaker’ jumping stomp in the SNES version though), walking around with a bad guy before you throw him, and, when a bad guy grabs you around the waste, dropping elbow smashes on his back to get him off.

STAGE 1: In the arcade version, you can lift and throw various objects at enemies (motorcycles, go-carts, pinball machines). These are removed from the SNES version.  


STAGE 1:  In the SNES version, you can’t throw bad guys down the nearby stairwell, try though you may.  Also note, there are less bad guys to pummel in the SNES version, with one generic punk missing altogether, and check out how the name of the restaurant was altered for the SNES release.   


STAGE 1: In the arcade version, you’ll have no trouble sending the motorcycle gang members head first down the stairs.  They won’t be coming back, either.  


STAGE 1: This occurs before and after all boss battles, but the SNES version has cutscenes to give this Beat ‘Em Up a story.  



STAGE 1:  The arcade version simply gives you the screen below.  


STAGE 2: The barrier on the left side of the screen prevents you from walking any further left, making this stage much more confined (the game in general has stages that take place in confined areas, at least as compared to other Beat ‘Em Ups).  


STAGE 2: In the arcade version, there is no barrier, and you’ll get to pursue the boss up some scaffolding before you fight him.  In the SNES version, you just fight him on the screen you see above.  


STAGE 2: In the arcade version, in the background, you’ll see a cart with three dancing cats.  


STAGE 2: In the SNES version, you’ll see the cart with 3 Kunio-things dancing.  This is a nod to Technos’ beloved Kunio-kun character.  


STAGE 3: The arcade version has two areas – the first one, seen below, is not present at all in the SNES version.  After beating all the punks on the top floor, your character descends a set of stairs to the second area in the arcade.  The SNES version simply starts in the second area.  Perhaps one reason why the first area was removed was because of the bar that is pictured in the arcade version would violate the SNES standards of ‘no alcohol references.’


STAGE 3: In the SNES version, Stage 3, as mentioned, starts off in the area you see below.  The background screen alternates between stars and the Technos logo.


STAGE 3: The arcade version has the same screens, but they alternate between a creepy looking woman and another odd image, before finally the boss’ face appears right before he shows up.  None of these are present in the SNES version.  

STAGE 4: The Native American boss of stage 4, in the arcade, does a jumping elbow drop once you disarm him of his tomahawk.  He does not do this move in the SNES version, and is subsequently easier to beat.  


STAGE 5: The name of Stage 5 is ‘The Demolition Troops’ in the SNES version, and ‘The Slaughter Troops’ in the arcade.  The layout of the stage is the same – you fight bad guys on several floors while intermittently hopping on an elevator to move on to the next floor – but in the SNES version, you will fight all of the previous bosses (and a few punks) in a boss rush until you get to the roof for ‘Stage 6 – The Final Battle’ with Martha Splatterhead, whom you’ve already discovered (from a cutscene) is the ‘big boss’ who united all the gangs.  

SNES – Stage 6: The Final Battle

STAGE 5: In the arcade, Stage 5 is a normal stage with a new gang of soldiers with guns and knives (you’ll fight just a couple of these enemy types on the last floor in the SNES version, and only the ones with guns).  In the arcade, you’ll encounter a man in a suit whom you assume is the ‘big boss,’ but he flees in a helicopter before you fight ‘Master Blaster,’ the Stage 5 boss.  In the SNES version, you fought Master Blaster on the last floor BEFORE heading up to the roof for ‘Stage 6.’  

ARCADE – Stage 5 boss, Master Blaster

STAGE 6: As mentioned, Stage 6 in the SNES version is simply the rooftop battle with Martha Splatterhead.  In the arcade, however, you battle on a dock with NYC in the background.  This stage is the boss rush – you’ll fight all the previous bosses before approaching the man in the suit.  Before you can fight him, however, he looks behind him into his limo, and suddenly is eviscerated from behind!  Out of the limo steps a woman (or TWO women if you’re playing with two players – this is not the case in the SNES version).  There is no explanation whatsoever as to who this woman is, unlike in the SNES version.  But evidently she is some type of associate of the suit guy and decided it was time for him to go.  You’ll fight her on the dock, just like the other bosses you just defeated.  



ENDING: In the arcade, you just leave Martha Splatterhead on the dock, and that’s it.  The SNES version actually has a slightly drawn out ending, where the Combatribes won’t leave her behind, since she is a fellow cyborg.  




So, which version is better?  It would be great if you could combine the ‘life bar’ and story elements of the SNES version with the slightly longer stages, additional moves, blood, and weapons of the arcade.  The addition of the story is an awesome addition for the console version.  It’s really an apples and oranges comparison, however, because obviously the SNES is not as powerful as an arcade.  Based purely on the graphics, the arcade has a slight edge.  The SNES version is also easier than the arcade.  It’s not ‘easy,’ mind you, just easier than the arcade.  The SNES game will take you less time to beat than the arcade version.  There are less bad guys, and generally speaking, they’re not quite as aggressive in the SNES version – except Martha Splatterhead – she’s relentless in both versions.  You can’t lose with either version, but I’d stick with the SNES version if I had to choose.

Turbografx-16 – War of the Dead

Previously only available for the PC Engine, the game was wonderfully translated to English for play on the American Turbografx-16.

Note 1Shiryo Sensen: War of the Dead was played on a Turbografx-16 game console that has been modified to output in component video.  It was connected to a 32-inch HD-tv that is capable of outputting the required 240p component video signal.

Note 2This game is a Turbografx-16 reproduction.  The game was originally only released in Japan, but today, some fantastic people have translated the game to English, fixed a couple of the original game’s ‘*bugs,’ and it is now possible to play the game as a Turbochip/Hu-card on your Turbografx-16 console! *This version of the game doesn’t delete all your inventory items if you acquire too many, nor does it re-set your experience and life bar to zero if you level up your character to the highest point, 9,999.

The excellent English translators also fixed the ‘back to zero’ glitch if you topped 9,999.

Note 3There are other versions of this game released for other consoles/computers, as well as a sequel.  However, this particular review focuses only on the English-translated Turbochip for the Turbografx-16.  There are some other great websites with information on this game, and comparisons to versions on other systems.

War of the Dead for the Turbografx-16 shares many similarities with Zelda II for the NES.

Overview: Shiryo Sensen: War of the Dead was originally released for the PC Engine (Japanese version of the Turbografx-16) in 1989.  It is an adventure-RPG, not too dissimilar from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  The game, like Zelda II, is split between an overworld exploration/map component and a side-view action component, where the player can battle monsters and acquire experience to ‘level up’ his or her character over the course of the story.  Having received Zelda II for Christmas 29 years or so ago, War of the Dead took me back to the feel of that NES classic, albeit with a darker story.

The Church is your central hub; your objective is to find survivors and bring them there.

Story: From the back cover of the game: Due to a series of mysterious events, the town of Chaney’s Hill has been cut off from the rest of the world.  People have suddenly gone missing and cannibalistic monsters now roam the land, killing all who cross their path.  The protagonist of the game is Laila Arufon, the youngest female member of the S-SWAT (Supernatural and Special Weapon Attack Team).  She was born in the small town of Chaney’s Hill and has developed strange psychic abilities.  Her Psychic Seal (PS) and Mind Force (MF) powers allow her to increase any weapon’s destructive power and increase her defensive capability greatly.  Her mission is twofold – she must investigate the mysterious and supernatural incident in Chaney’s Hill, and rescue all the remaining survivors she can find and lead them to the town’s Church.  

Talking to everyone, often multiple times, is the key to advancing in the game.

Gameplay: Your character, Laila, begins in the Church, which is a safe refuge from the monsters killing people in the town.  In the beginning, only Laila, Carrie, and the Reverend Carpenter are in the church, but it soon fills up as you rescue the townspeople.  Carrie, or other survivors, will give you hints or outright tell you where you should investigate next in order to find survivors – usually buildings around town.  For example, your first destination is City Hall, and your next one is the School.  As you venture outside the Church and explore the mountainous landscape of the town of Chaney’s Hill, you will randomly encounter battles with the monsters terrorizing the town.  At this point, the action becomes side-scrolling, and Laila can either flee to the left or right to exit the battle, or attack the monsters with her knife or gun (the gun has a limited amount of ammo).  Choosing to fight results in monsters dropping a blue orb (gives experience points to slowly ‘level up’ Laila), a red orb (replenishes Laila’s life bar), a green orb (replenishes her ‘Mind Force’ – the ability to cast spells/enchantments that increase the power of her weapons and strengthen her defense), or an ammunition box, which increases the total number of bullets for your gun(s) (up to 999).

The raft, which you get early in the game, allows for faster travel and exploration of new parts of Chaney’s Hill.

Items and weapons: On your inventory screen (press Select), you can use items to replenish your health or Mind Force (magic).  You sometimes find these items in chests inside buildings . You can also change your weapon.  You start out with only the knife and a pistol, but will soon acquire alternate firearms.  You will also acquire other items, usually from the game’s characters, that help you advance the story.  *You cannot access the inventory screen during the side-scrolling battle sections of the game, so make sure you’re prepared with the correct weapon and health items before you encounter tough enemies. Additionally, you have an option for ‘PS REM,’ which allows you to cast your Mind Force (magic) on any of your selected weapons in order to strengthen their attack power. Different weapons use different amounts of MF – for example, the knife uses 8 MF points while the rifle uses 15.

Using your ‘Mind Force’ power increases the power of your weapons, so use it often!

Enemy Encounters: These are random, and certain parts of the town (or map) seem to be ‘hot spots’ for encounters.  For example, I had to travel a good bit south of the Church to first encounter enemies.  Walking around in a particular area near a forest allowed me to constantly fight enemies and level up my character.  However, in other spots of the town, I rarely, if ever, encountered enemies.  Having the ability to flee battles is a nice touch as well, although sometimes enemies may approach from both sides, making fleeing without at least some fighting difficult.  In the beginning of the game, Laila is quite weak, but it doesn’t take too long to grind her levels up and increase her life bar significantly by collecting the blue orbs that enemies drop.  *Her Mind Force bar (think ‘MP’ or Magic Power) increases after certain objectives (rescuing particular citizens) have been completed.  When you encounter enemies in buildings rather than the town/overworld, the enemies tend to be stronger, so first spending significant time leveling up Laila in the town is crucial to your survival inside buildings.

Enemies and bosses inside buildings are a tough challenge that require you to have appropriately strengthened Laila through leveling up.

Music: The soundtrack for War of the Dead is wonderful – an upbeat but creepy mix welcomingly accompanies you along your journey.

Not the most ideal option for game saving, the password for War of the Dead is a bit long.  This, however, is only a minor nuance in an excellent gaming experience.

Passwords: To save your game, when in the Church, touch the Cross on the left side of the screen.  The saving system for War of the Dead is a password system.  It would have been great if this game would have utilized the TurboBooster-Plus save system that games like Neutopia take advantage of, but for some reason, it is password only.  The password system for War of the Dead is the longest one I’ve ever seen in the multitude of password games I’ve played, but it’s nothing to deter you from playing the game.  The wonderful translators of this game, in addition to translating the dialogue, also changed the password screen – which originally was a mix of alphabet letters, numbers, and Japanese characters – to alphabet letters, numbers, and other random symbols (no Japanese characters), which for me, with zero knowledge of Japanese, is far easier to identify and input.  After a little practice, I’m able to accurately input the password in approximately 3-4 minutes.  I’d recommend taking a clear picture of the password with your smart phone, or simply take the time to be precise if you’re recording it in a notebook.  Because of the long password, I’d also recommend playing this game when you have half an hour or more to devote to playing time, since you can’t just pop right in and start playing.

One by one, you must save everyone you can and return them to the Church.

Conclusion: War of the Dead is a welcome addition to the TurboChip library of the Turbografx-16, which is sorely lacking without English translations like this one (thank you again, translators!!!).  The combination of the overworld/town exploration and side-scrolling battles works well, and is reminiscent of the well-known NES classic, Zelda II.  *It’s better, however, at least in terms of being less difficult and more clear about what to do next, than Zelda II was, in my opinion.  The story is wonderfully creepy and horror-esque, something unlike what I’ve ever found in other Turbografx games, other than Splatterhouse.

Enemies that drop blue orbs are the most beneficial – these orbs increase your experience, which, at certain totals, will increase your life bar.

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter grade:  C+ War of the Dead has some good things going for it – a captivating story, fun (and simple) battles for leveling up your character, great music, and great control.  However, there may be more than a few a few times when you’re confused about where to go next (just keep talking to people!), the town/map is rather large to explore while having to bring survivors back to the church (meaning you’ll do a lot of walking) and the password system is a bit long if you don’t have the patience for it, but overall, this is a fun experience, and different enough to set it apart from other adventure-RPGs. I did beat the game, and I would estimate a good 15-20 hours I spent on it. It can be tedious with all of the walking and while the English translation itself is perfect, the game is designed around you, the player, picking up on the clues other characters tell you and knowing where to go next, which may not be the most fun for every type of player.

War of the Dead is an engaging, creepy adventure-RPG.

I found this map online that may help if you’re playing War of the Dead; I added in where the major buildings are located

Above is the password to get you with all items and everything out of the way to go to the Ruins for the two boss fights at the end of the game.

Sammy Atomiswave – Dirty Pigskin Football

The loan football game for the Atomiswave

Note: This game was played in a consolized Sammy Atomiswave that has been modified to output via an HDMI port.  The game was played in a 39-inch HD tv using a Neo Geo controller.

Overview: Dirty Pigskin Football was released for the Sammy Atomiswave arcade cabinet in 2004.  Evidently, some of the dedicated arcade cabinets had their own unique ‘football’ styled joysticks, making for a unique playing experience.

Players: *2, co-op or competitive.  In the system menu, under Game Settings, the game can be set up for 4 players. Originally, depending on the arcade cabinet the Atomiswave motherboard was set up in, arcade owners had the option to select 2 or 4 players based on how many players their machine could accommodate.  My consolized Atomiswave only has 2 controller ports; therefore, I keep the setting for 2 players only.

Rules: 5 on 5 Football. Each game is 3:00 minutes long. Ties are possible, and there is no overtime. There is no kicking of any kind in the game – each team starts their possession on their own 20 yard line, and has 4 downs to score a touchdown, or the ball is turned over on downs. There are no penalties of any kind.

Season: Play a 5 game season. The first 4 games are the regular season. Depending on your record, you’ll get a championship game against one of four possible opponents: a Mirror Match vs. your own team, the Hall of Fame (a mix of players from several of the teams), HardKor (a cyborg team), and the Dark Horde (a demonic football team).

Scoring: 7 points for a passing touchdown, 6 points for a rushing touchdown. 2 points for a safety. 7 points for an interception returned for a touchdown (Pick 7?!). Remember, there is no kicking PATs or field goals.

Controls: 3 action buttons are used. They are color-coded on the playscreen. Essentially, on your controller, red is button 1, blue is button 2, and yellow is button 3. On offense, you press button 1, 2, or 3 to select a play (9 to choose from for each team, although only 3 appear onscreen at a time – scroll right or left to see the other plays) and button 1 also snaps the ball. Once snapped, you can press button 1 or button 2 to pass to the red or blue highlighted receiver. Button 3 activates your ‘turbo’ – your QB (or receiver if you passed) will speed up if held until your meter is depleted.  On defense, button 1 tackles the ball carrier, and button 2 switches which of the 5 players in your team you are. Will you cover a receiver as a Corner or go for the sack as a Linebacker?

Advanced Defense Controls: On defense, wiggling the joystick will help you get off blocks to try and sack the QB or pursue a ball carrier. Pressing button 1+ button 3 executes a ‘Super Tackle’ if you are close to the ball carrier.  This is a special move that has its own animation and stops the ball carrier right in his or her tracks. You can only execute a Super Tackle if your meter is completely full and reads SUPER and you’re near the ball carrier.

Advanced Offense Controls: Button 1 + Button 2 spins your runner. Button 2 + button 3 delivers a stiff arm. As the QB, if your meter reads SUPER, you can throw an incrediblely quick pass by pressing the button of your receiver plus button 3.

Teams: 8 teams are available. As far as I can tell, they all play similarly; however, each has their own unique playbook of nine offensive plays and nine defensive plays, giving some reason to try different teams. Each team has their own unique personality and stadium. My favorite has to be the Gridiron Ghouls, who play in what appears to be a haunted college campus with a ‘Class of 1903’ banner hanging from a building.

Sound Effects: Excellent!  Hits are bone crunching! The sound effect for taking off by hitting the turbo button is an exhilarating 0-60 whirr. Music is also unique to each teams’ stadium and awesome.

Gameplay & Control: Outstanding. Controlling your character is easy and effective.  He or she does exactly what you want. On defense, positioning your player directly in front of receivers is key to getting interceptions or knocking the ball away. It takes a game or two to get things down, particularly learning to use the ‘advanced’ controls, but it’s all really quite simple as an arcade game should be.

Options:  In the Atomiswave test menu, you can adjust the timer to run Slow, Normal, or Fast.  You can set the game to Free Play so you don’t have to pump in Credits, which is great for a game like this. There’s also an option to remove the Bad Girls, the loan female team (I suppose they didn’t want to run into trouble by depicting violence against women?).

Saving:  The Atomiswave console (motherboard) will save your high scores on high score screens, even if you turn the system off!  There are multiple high score screens, including Most Yards Per Game, Most Yards Per Season, and Current Champion if you beat the 5th team. The scores will delete, however, if you insert a new game into the console and turn it on.

The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade: A+. I love football games (see all my other football game reviews!), but I’ve never really been into 3D style ‘modern’ football games.  This one, however, is awesome.  Sure, the graphics are a bit blocky.  But games are quick (in fact, the whole 5 game season only takes about 20 minutes) co-op is available (something too many arcade football games never allowed) and the action is hard-hitting. The game has an easy learning curve, but even on Easy, getting to 5-0 will take some practice!

Sammy Atomiswave – Knights of Valour: The Seven Spirits


Note: This game was played on a Sammy Atomiswave that has been ‘consolized’  (made to play on a television like a regular home game console), rather than in an arcade cabinet.  This console version of the Atomiswave has an HDMI port, two ports for connecting Neo Geo controllers, and buttons for adding Credits (Coins) and accessing the System Menu, where things like adjusting the language or number of lives can be done.  *Atomiswave cartridges are roughly the size of Super Nintendo cartridges, and they could easily be taken out of the motherboard for convenience to arcade owners and replaced with other Atomiswave games; this easy cartridge switching made the Atomiswave a good candidate for consolization, in my opinion, as it truly feels like a game console.


Two Neo Geo ports are included on this consolized Atomiswave motherboard.

Genre: Beat ‘Em Up

Players: 2

History: Knights of Valour: The Seven Spirits was released for the Sammy Atomiswave arcade cabinet in 2003.  It is one in a series of games in the Knights of Valour series.  As far as I can discern from the limited information on the Internet, the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms serves as a foundation for some of the game’s characters and battles.


There are 8 chapters of Beat ‘Em Up action in KoV: The Seven Spirits.

Overview: Despite it’s release being long after the general decline of the Beat ‘Em Up genre, KoV: The Seven Spirits is, at its core, a classic Beat ‘Em Up.  You choose your character, walk right, and pummel any and everything in sight.  Boss fights await at the end of each ‘chapter.’  Special moves, health & magic pick ups, and treasure pick ups (points) – all general staples of the genre, are found here.


6 unique characters, each with his or her own story, are available for selection.

Characters: *6 characters are available at the start of the game (a 7th ‘hidden’ character, who I have not uncovered yet, appears to be available, according to the sticker that arrived with the game).  Megrez, Alioth (female), Merak, Phecda, Mizer (female), and Alkaid comprise the fighters in KoV: The Seven Sprits.  As one might expect, each has his or her own speed and strength levels and special attacks.


Screen-filling, bad-guy killing specials are common.

Control: KoV: The Seven Spirits uses the control stick and 3 action buttons.  Button A serves as a regular attack, Button B as a ‘hard attack’ or secondary attack, and Button C is jump.  Combination hits are easily chained when pressing A multiple times, and often when mixing in Button B.  Dashing is achieved by pressing Toward, Toward.  Each character also has unique ‘Arts,’ or special attacks achieved by pressing button combinations (often when prompted onscreen).  For example, Mizer’s Arts are ‘Hail of Bolts from a Clear Blue Sky,’ activated by pressing A+B, or her ‘Double Fang Flash,’ activated by pressing B+C.  Additionally, if playing with 2 players, ‘Summon Beast’ specials can be activated if BOTH players press combinations at the same time.  For example, if both players press A+B at the same time, the ‘Retribution Summon Beast’ special is activated, or if Player 1 presses A+B and Player 2 presses B+C, the ‘Original Sin Summon Beast’ special is activated.’  These deal tremendous damage to enemies.


Outstanding, poorly translated (oxymoron!) dialogue adds to the game experience.

Gauges:  The characters have a Life Gauge and a Samsara Gauge (called the ‘Reincarnation Gauge’ in the User Manual).  The Life Gauge can be replenished by finding health pick ups (hearts).  The Samsara Gauge is accompanied by a number from 0 to 7.  This refers to the number of Star Balls (Baraka Spheres) you have.  Pressing A+B or A+C uses one of the balls and activates a special attack.  The Samsara Gauge fills slowly through fighting – when it fills, you’ll be prompted to press A+C – now the bar will slowly decrease, and during this time you can use unlimited special attacks.

Story: Between the onslaught of soldiers you encounter, the story is advanced through dialogue between the selected characters and boss characters.  Many of the dialogue exchanges seem to have political undertones or larger, more war-related overtones.  I found most of the dialogue (which is brief – this an arcade Beat ‘Em Up, after all) amusing, if for no other reason than the fact that the English translation was about on par with Neo Geo English translations – that is to say, the translation isn’t all that great, most of the time.


Two-player only special attacks give an added reason to team up with a friend.

Chapters:  Battle through 8 chapters to complete the game.  Each character has his or her own unique Chapter 1 (this will be Player 1’s stage if there are 2 Players).  After that, choices are presented to the player – you can choose which village to save or which oppressive empire to topple through single-handedly destroying an entire army.  It adds great replay to the game, and I haven’t seen this type of structure in a Beat ‘Em Up on this scale in a game before, other than the two Dungeons and Dragons games (see my reviews).


Manage the game difficulty to your own taste in the System Menu.

Options: In the System Menu, under Game Settings, you can adjust the difficulty level.  Under Easy, you definitely have a chance to One Credit Clear the game if you learn to master combat (not difficult).  You can also increase the total number of lives from 1-5.  Playing with 1 credit on 5 lives, on Easy (for now) is my favorite choice.


The Sammy Atomiswave will save your high scores!  At least, until you put in a new cartridge.

High Scores: If you achieve a high score, you will have the chance to save your initials on a high score screen – and each character has his or her own screen.  Now, if you lose all of your lives and continue, the score counter keeps running BUT the last two digits will reflect the fact that you had to continue to get your high score.  For example, if you simply play on 1 credit and achieve a score of 600,000 before losing your last life, that’s exactly how your score will read on the High Score screen for your character – 600,000.  However, if you used 2 credits (you chose to continue after losing your last life) and achieved a score of 1,000,000, your score on the High Score screen would read 1,000,001 to reflect the number of times you continued.  Several Neo Geo games do this as well, and I love it as a way to distinguish single-credit scores from multiple-credit scores.  Note – The high scores DO save, even if you turn the system off.  I don’t know if this happens on original non-modded systems, but when I removed the cartridge and later re-inserted it, my high scores were still saved!  However, when I put in a different Atomiswave game, ‘Backup Data Cleared’ appeared on the screen.  When I put Knights of Valour back in, all of the pre-set defaults (Japanese language, Normal difficulty, etc.) were back in place, and high scores were gone.  So basically, high scores are saved even if you turn off the system and remove the cartridge, but not if you insert another game and turn on the system.  The motherboard can only remember high scores and settings for one game at a time.

No Pausing: Remember, this is an arcade game, so there’s no pausing.  *If you press the System Menu button on the console, it will pull up, but if you exit from there, the game resets.  A timer will appear onscreen if you are in danger of not completing a stage in time.  Occasionally, however, if you need to take a quick break, you’ll find that if you stop advancing forward, no enemies will attack you, and your only danger will be the clock, which runs slowly and only actually appears when you have 10 seconds to reach the next ‘checkpoint’ onscreen.


Similar to a scene in Warriors of Fate (see my review), a rather disturbing scene plays out if you don’t save this woman and her child in Phecda’s opening chapter.

The Southern Gentleman’s Letter Grade and Opinion: Knights of Valour: The Seven Spirits is an amazing Beat ‘Em Up.  The controls are a cinch, the fighting is fast and addictive, and the dialogue, while meant to be serious, is made humorous due to the translation.  Even with 8 chapters, one can blaze through the game in about 40 minutes.  The different stories associated with each character and different routes give the game excellent replay value.  I’ve not come close to fully exploring each character’s arc, but look forward to doing so. The music is great, and the graphics, which do look somewhat modern-ish compared to 1980’s and 1990’s Beat ‘Em Ups, are all excellent.  One thing I like is how the game ‘scales’ the characters – if the characters move closer to the screen, they get larger, if they push back, they get smaller – this adds a sense of depth.  I love the high score screens for each character, and trying to clear the game on 1 Credit is my personal goal.  A+

Turbografx-16 – Neutopia

Note:  I’ve previously reviewed Neutopia II, which aside from some differences that I noted in the review, is a strikingly similar game to the first Neutopia.  The following are some playing tips I’ve created that may help anyone in playing this excellent Turbografx-16 game.  While there is a great FAQ Walkthrough I’ve found online, these are some tips that will simply help you have a better understanding of how to be successful at the game without giving away where to go and what to do.

Neutopia Playing Tips:

1. HEALTH – A quick way to regain your health if your meter is low: When asked if you want a password, say “Yes.” When asked if you want to continue playing, say “No.” On the title screen, select ‘Continue.’  Using either the Password option or File Cabinet option (you can only save to the File Cabinet if you have a TurboBooster-Plus attached to your console, or the Turbo-Grafx CD attachment also has the ability to save), the password will already be entered for you (the File Cabinet really just ‘saves’ your password so you never have to write it down), so simply move the cursor to END. You’ll start back right where you left off with a full health meter!

2. COMPASS & CHIME – Use the compass on the map screen often to (generally) point you in the right direction.  Also, when on the menu screen, listen for a ‘chime’ that will sometimes let you know that a medallion is nearby when you’re in one of the eight labyrinths.  DO NOT FORGET THIS.

3. DISCOVERING SECRETS – To find secret passages, either in the Overworld or in one of the eight labyrinths, try defeating all of the enemies on screen, THEN burning everything in sight with the Fire Wand, or pushing every stone. If you’re lost, don’t forget this tactic.

4. CANCELING CONVERSATIONS – To cancel talking to the residents of Neutopia, press the II button when they begin speaking. This saves time when you’ve already spoken to someone once.

5. AVOIDING GOLD REDUCTION – Try not to die, as dying reduces the gold you’ve collected by HALF.  When in doubt, use the Wings of Return item to go back to the Save Lady to avoid getting killed.

6. MEDICINE – You can carry up to two medicines, (red when the bottle holds two doses, green when it holds one), and DON’T HESITATE TO USE IT WHEN YOUR HEALTH IS LOW.  If you already have two potions, and you (for some reason) pick up another from a shop or find one in a chest, you won’t be able to carry more than the two, and the one you tried to collect will disappear.  So don’t hesitate to use a potion, as you’ll likely find another one again soon.

7. INCREASING BOMB CAPACITY AND LIFE CAPACITY –  You begin the quest with the capacity to carry only 8 bombs.  You can increase your capacity by 4 bombs exactly three times in the game, for a maximum of 20 bombs.  Search every screen of the over world: Some residents just give you advice, but you’ll occasionally find monks to increase your bomb-carrying capacity, residents who will give you gold, or wise men to increase the length of your health meter.  Seek them out.

8. GOLD COLLECTION – Collect as much gold as possible! You’ll need it for medicine and bombs, especially in the back half of the game.  Also, bombs and medicine get more expensive in each of the 4 spheres you visit (Earth, Subterranean, Water, and Sky). It’s often a good idea to return to the Earth Sphere to buy at cheaper rates. *Also, don’t BUY the ring – enemies will drop it often in labyrinths.

9. ITEMS & WEAPONS – Never leave any of the eight labyrinths without finding the treasure! Whether it’s armor, a shield, or another item, you’ll need every item to have the best chance to complete your quest. Also, some important items aren’t in labyrinths, but in bombable caves or hidden stairwells in the Overworld (ex. Steel Shield, Falcon Shoes in the Sea Sphere).  *The Bell of the Sky in Labyrinth 8 opens doors and reveals stairways!

10. LABYRINTHS – Always bring a full stock of bombs and two medicines into every labyrinth!  In the final four labyrinths, use the Wings of Return after you find the compass, key, or special item.  If you’re low on health, this is a good way to keep the items you’ve already collected. Get healthy, re-stock, and return!

11. USE THE FIRE WAND ON BOSSES Seriously, a powered-up firewand works wonders on almost every boss. Think the Crab Boss and that Fake Dirth (Labyrinth 8) are too tough?  Nope, they, and others, can easily be decimated by shooting walls and walls of fire across the screen continuously.

12. PASSWORDS – Write down the password carefully (or use the file cabinet save system if you have a Turbobooster Plus accessory) and don’t get discouraged! Keep at it!