This one was a doozy! Deep Fear is one I’ve been meaning to play for a while, so I figured it would make a great installment for the 10th Brief Facts!
As you’ll be able to tell from the video, I played through the Japanese version of Deep Fear. While all the text is in Japanese, it’s not too difficult to fumble your way through the game; your objectives are fairly straightforward. Notably, all the voice acting in English. Hilariously awful English. It’s like they got their American accounting interns to do all the VO in one take.
I also think this game has the most righteous Engrish tag line ever:
“Hereafter we will have desperate days with nowhere to escape.” Why even bother trying, then, one wonders.
I’ll update this post in the coming days with some more media. In the meantime, enjoy this charming misspelling:
Thanks for watching – and to all you videophiles out there, sorry about the jailbars!
At least I got to play this on HD thanks to my beautiful new Analogue NT? If I never play this game again it will be too soon… but it’s an interesting historical footnote, so WATCH THE VIDEO. This project was like jumping in front of a bullet that was aimed at no one… but I am happy with the end result!
Code Name: Viper Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990 Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Capcom
Last time, we talked about the underrated gameplay of Capcom’s Code Name: Viper. Today, we’ll be talking about its inspirations, or perhaps more accurately, its source material.
It would be diplomatic to say that Code Name: Viper was heavily inspired by Namco’s Rolling Thunder. It would be accurate to say that nearly nearly every aspect of Code Name: Viper’s design was stolen from Rolling Thunder.
Originally released to arcades in late 1986, Rolling Thunder puts the player in control of Albatross, a secret agent on a quest to rescue his partner, Leila. But Rolling Thunder’s epic backstory isn’t relevant to this discussion. If you’d like to learn more about Rolling Thunder, you should read Kurt Kalata’s excellent writeup over at Hardcore Gaming 101. And after you’ve read that, head over to USGamer and listen to the fantastic episode of Retronauts Micro on the entire Rolling Thunder series. Done? Good.
What is relevant to this discussion is that in 1989, Namco decided to to port Rolling Thunder to the Famicom/NES. Tengen would publish the game in the US, in one of its infamous, black, off-brand cartridges. If the Internet is to be believed, the developer tasked with porting Rolling Thunder to Nintendo’s console (at least in part) was none other than Arc System Works. Today, Arc is well-known in gaming circles as the developer of the increasingly eccentric Guilty Gearfranchise of fighting games. Back in 1989, however, Arc would have been just a plucky little upstart development house, somewhere in the middle of its first or second year of existence.
Arc’s port of Rolling Thunder isn’t bad, so much as it is drab and unrefined. The game’s color palette is remarkably restrained: everything looks like it was originally optimized to run on a CGA monitor. And in case you’re under 30 and that reference flew over your head, just take a look:
Until the color green makes its appearance in the third level, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Arc had intentionally restricted themselves to blues, whites, and blacks. Thankfully, things get a little more varied and colorful as the game progresses.
While Rolling Thunder for the NES borders on indisputably ugly, it plays remarkably well. Generally speaking, the action in Rolling Thunder takes place across two parallel planes – a high plane and a low plane. Albatross and the legion of masked enemies that stand in his way can freely travel between those two planes by way of a perpendicular leap. As Albatross has the smallest of life bars, the player is forced to dart between both planes, around cover, and into hidden doors in order to get the drop on enemies without taking any damage. It’s a nice little gameplay cocktail which makes for some fairly exciting action. One can’t help but think that Arc had the Rolling Thunder formulafairly close to perfected. If only they had another bite at the apple, what might they have accomplished?
As luck would have it, we know the answer to that question. Code Name: Viper is Arc’s second bite. You may have noticed that the last paragraph was comprised entirely of re-purposed and slightly altered sentences from last week’s post. That’s because Code Name: Viper is comprised entirely of re-purposed and slightly altered gameplay concepts and graphics from Rolling Thunder.
You see, in 1990, despite being an extremely prolific developer in its own right, as well as the owner of some of the hottest video game franchises on the planet, Capcom inexplicably decided that it needed to publish what amounted to a port of Rolling Thunder on the NES.
Perhaps this was some sort of jab at its arcade competitor, Namco? The world may never know.
Again, if the Internet is to be believed, Capcom hired the uniquely qualified Arc System Works to do the grunt work. The end result: Code Name: Viper, which is both highly derivative of Rolling Thunder, yet refined and improved in nearly every single way.
The similarities in both of Arc’s games are readily apparent. All you have to do is compare the sprites for Mr. Smith and Albatross:
They both fire their machine guns from the same posture;
they both share the same awkward jumping pose;
they have nearly identical falling animations;
and, hell, they are both wearing the same set of disturbingly flesh-toned, high-waisted pants. Apparently, and unfortunately, Arc felt they’d accomplished all they needed to accomplish in the realm of covert operative leg-wear.
The similarities extend beyond character sprites as well. Just compare the second level of Rolling Thunder…
with the second level of Code Name: Viper:
Even the interstitial sequences which feature the bad guys watching a computer monitor were taken from Rolling Thunder…
… though they’ve got far more polish in Code Name Viper.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, really; theenemy designs, the music, the power-ups – Code Name: Viper lifted so much from Rolling Thunder that it probably threw its back out in the process. It is for this reason that Code Name: Viper has been dismissed as little more than a ripoff, and perhaps rightfully so.
But here’s the thing: if Code Name: Viper is simply Rolling Thunder under another name, it’s indisputably the best version of Rolling Thunder on the NES. Arc’s second crack at Rolling Thunder’s particular brand of spy-themed action improves on their first effort in nearly every single way: the graphics are more detailed, the control is tighter, and the music is catchier. It’s the Rolling Thunder that Namco should have published in the first place. Sure, you can choose to view Code Name: Viper as a ripoff, but I choose to view it as an example of a developer revisiting its freshman efforts and improving upon them in virtually every single way. Capcom copied Namco; Arc merely copied itself.
Regardless of how you come out on Arc’s peculiar brand of sub-contracted self-plagiarism, it’s hard to dispute that it resulted in quality release in Code Name: Viper. It’s the closest thing to a South American vacation you’ll find on an 8-bit console, and it’s a fair shake more pleasant to look at than its drab predecessor. Skip the originator and go right to the imitator.
Unless you’ve got a Genesis, that is… but that is a story for another time.
Code Name: Viper Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990 Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Capcom
As anyone who walked into an arcade between the years of 1989 and 2000 can tell you, winners don’t use drugs. This of, course, is why drug dealers make for fantastic video game adversaries. Today, franchises like Grand Theft Auto sell millions of copies on the backs of protagonists who openly deal in narcotics. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, however, gamers were far more likely to be destroying drug labs than running them. Of all the games that sailed on the wave of the “just say no” sentiment that was pumped into my brain during the Reagan/Bush era, Capcom’s Code Name: Viper is indisputably my favorite.
Like most games of its vintage, Code Name: Viper has the simplest of plots – you couldn’t even roll a joint with the paper it would take to transcribe the whole thing. The player assumes the role of Kenny Smith, whom we can only assume is the eponymous “Viper,” as the game never refers to him as such. An agent of “Special Missions,” Mr. Smith has been tasked by his cigar-smoking superior, Commander Jones, with destroying the seven hideouts of “the huge drug syndicate in South America.” In each location, he must also recover one of his fellow agents, who has been “hurt and captured” by the syndicate. Simple stuff, right? OR SO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT WOULD HAVE YOU THINK. But we’ll get into that later.
Mr. Smith can do 5 things:
It’s a pretty basic moveset for a guy code-named after a venomous snake, but it’s not Mr. Smith’s moves that make the game so enjoyable, it’s the level design. Generally speaking, the action in Code Name: Viper takes place across two parallel planes – a high plane and a low plane. Both Mr. Smith and the legion of literally faceless enemies that stand in his way can freely travel between those two planes by way of a perpendicular leap. Each plane is also populated with various objects that effectively serve as waist-high cover for Mr. Smith’s adversaries.
Additionally, each stage is filled with an absolutely absurd amount of “secret” revolving doors; I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every entryway in this game is both concealed and rotating. I’ve seen Narcos; I know secrecy is important drug cartels, but Code Name: Viper takes it to ridiculous lengths. In addition to containing power-ups and hostages to rescue, these doors also serve as a means of hiding from enemies. By holding up on the control pad, Mr. Smith can remain inside a door for as long as he likes, during which time he is impervious to harm.
As Mr. Smith has the smallest of life bars, the player is forced to dart between both planes, around cover, and into hidden doors in order to get the drop on enemies without taking any damage. It’s a nice little gameplay cocktail which makes for some fairly exciting action. Take a look:
Each level ends in a dead-end. Mr. Smith cannot break through these barriers until he has rescued the captured commando hidden in each stage, who, inexplicably, will be carrying high-powered explosives. As I assume that any “huge drug syndicate” with the foresight to cover half of South America with hidden revolving doors would have frisked its captives, we can only assume that these commandos have swallowed these live explosives, like so many condoms full of cocaine, and retrieved them rectally. Talk about using your enemies’ methods against them.
At the end of each level, Mr. Smith sits down with the commando he’s rescued, who reveals what syndicate secrets he’s uncovered. Invariably, what he’s obtained is a portion of an internal drug cartel memo, lovingly scrawled on what appears to be paper torn from a child’s wide-ruled notebook.
At each level’s conclusion, the player is also treated to an image of an unidentified person observing Mr. Smith’s progress through a state of the art CRT monitor:
Presumably, this person is a high-ranking member of the huge drug syndicate, as his hands take on a slightly more nervous posture as Mr. Smith closes in on the final level:
This is a nice little touch which really adds a bit of spice to the game’s otherwise sparse plot.
With each commando he rescues, Mr. Smith uncovers more and more lines of the huge drug syndicate’s TPS reports. By the time the seventh stage has been completed, the entire vile, drug peddling plot has been lain bare before us.
Sweet Jesus. The WHOLE world? Not just through drugs, but BY DRUGS? And COMMANDER JONES is behind it? How could he do such a… uh…
That works. Thanks, Kenny!
But seriously, that memo is great. It reads like they’ve been having problems with the new hires contacting Commander Jones to refill the toner in the copy machine. It even concludes with “pay attention to this matter.” The only thing missing is a sentence about how Darla down in coca leaf processing is running a 5k to support prostate cancer survivors, and donations can be left in the jar behind the secret door in the mail room. Let’s not even touch the fact that they divulged Commander Jones’ location for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Obviously, Commander Jones is not pleased with these developments:
HE SMACKED THE TABLE SO HARD THE MONITOR TURNED OFF. HOT DAMN! While this plot twist has very little impact, I’ve always enjoyed the way these little interstitial scenes play out over the course of the game.
Of course, this revelation leads to a surprise EIGHTH stage where the player must infiltrate Commander Jones’ chic Beverly Hills drug den and defeat him in a surprisingly brief, but challenging, boss battle. At the conclusion of the game, we’re treated to a brief text scroll of an ending:
Yep, Kenny Smith goes full on Dirty Harry. He even gets rid of his badge:
If you think about it, this ending could be viewed as a little bit subversive. While it’s not rare for NES games to invoke the “your employer is the villain,” trope, in Code Name: Viper your more or less working for the CIA. The game is as much a critique of the US government as it is an indictment of drug cartels. Pretty weighty stuff for something that was sold as a toy for children. SEEDS PLANTED. Well done, Capcom.
I’ve always felt that Code Name: Viper is one of the more under-appreciated titles in the NES catalog. It has more or less vanished from most gamers’ memories, despite having stellar graphics, a refined, yet simple, control scheme, and uncommonly catchy music. But there’s a very good reason why history hasn’t been kind to Code Name: Viper – it’s a blatant rip-off of another game. But we’ll save that for Part 2. Tune in next time!
Street Fighter II’ PC Engine – 1993 Developer – NEC Avenue Publisher – Capcom
While I haven’t surrendered my tennis questing just yet, I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of my favorite console ports of all time, Street Fighter II’Championship Edition for the PC Engine. While it’s outshone on nearly level by SNES version Street Fighter II Turbo, which was released in the same year, it’s an impressive port in its own right, and well worth the consideration of any fighting game fan with the means to play it.
Street Fighter II and its countless iterations were hot commodities in the early ’90; the franchise was ported to everything from the Game Boy to the Commodore 64. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a TI-82 version of the game out there in the ether. At first glance, the PC Engine (what we knew in the States as the TurboGrafx-16) version of Street Fighter II’ appears to be little more than a slightly less impressive version of its SNES counterpart; there’s nothing on the surface of this port that would lead you to believe it’s worthy of any great praise. However, when one considers the specifications of the hardware that it is ran on, it’s somewhat of a technical marvel.
While whether the PC Engine/TurboGrafx qualifies as a “16-bit” system is a subject best reserved for another day, one thing is not in dispute: it had an 8-bit CPU, the same as the NES. Though the PC Engine came strapped with a dual 16-bit GPU, in terms of raw horsepower, it was still operating on an 8-bit level. If I might hazard a broad and clumsy car analogy, compared to the NES, everything has been upgraded but the engine – new coat of paint, new tires, front and rear spoilers – but it’s still not going to go that much faster. The PC Engine’s chief competitors, the Genesis and the SNES, were working with legit 16-bit CPUs. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s TWICE of processing power.
So, considering that raw power differential, take a look at this:
While astute observers will note that there are missing frames of animation, a lack of color depth, and other shortcomings, considering the hardware, the end result is almost unimpeachable: this is a full featured, smooth playing, and aesthetically pleasing adaptation of an arcade classic. While this port never saw a US release, I have to imagine that Japanese PC Engine owners were ecstatic with the quality of SFII’.
SFII’ pushed the PC Engine to its absolute limits. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the sheer size of it compared to a standard PCE/TG16 HuCard:
Clocking in at a massive (for the time) 20 megabits, SFII’ could not be contained in a standard issue HuCard. It’s literally bursting at the seems with quality. It’s somewhat notable that the game was released on a HuCard at all, as the PC Engine had a well-established CD-ROM add on by the time SFII’ was released. I can only assume that it was released on HuCard so as to reach as wide of an audience as possible.
I’m far from an expert on the subject, but if you’d like to see some comparisons of the PC Engine version of SFII’ against its Genesis and SNES counterparts, I’d highly recommend you check out this excellent post over at Retro Sanctuary. SFII’ for the PC Engine is one of those select few instances where a little background information on a game makes it all the more enjoyable to an enthusiast – I’d highly recommend it to any fans of the console or the series.
Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance
PlayStation 2, 2005
Developer: Cavia Publisher: Capcom
Suppose Grand Theft Auto and Tekken had a beautiful child. With the solid brawling mechanics of a fighting game and the free-roaming edginess of a sandbox crime game, this child would have been destined for greatness; a perfect storm of depth, complexity, and replay value. But what if I were to tell you that this child hated its parents? That it eschewed its inheritance? That it hated the concept of being a video game so much that it gave up all its aspirations, dropped out of college at age 20, and became a creepy townie? That game, my friends, is Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance.
But hey, let’s be honest, creepy townies know how to party, and I’m not ashamed to say that I had a good time throwing back a few with Beatdown. I’m not sure if it was the good time its creators intended, but it was a good time nonetheless.
Set in the fictional city of Las Sombras, the action in Beatdown is held together by a patchwork of cliched revenge narratives. You play as one of five gangsters, who have been framed for… I don’t know. I played this game for over ten hours, and I have no idea what my motivation was. There was a plot, though. Here’s the beginning:
And, if you’re not spoiler averse, here is the end. In between? Let’s just say this sandwich doesn’t have any meat. The less you think about it, the better; in Beatdown, you’ve been wronged, and your ultimate goal is to beat up the people that have wronged you. Beatdown’s story serves only to point you towards the end of the game. The less said about it the better; it literally makes no sense.
While Beatdown has a critical path consisting of a dozen or so missions, you’ll usually find that your character is somewhat underpowered to deal with them as they arise. As such, you spend most of Beatdown wandering the streets of Las Sombras randomly assaulting its citizens to gain the money, power and experience necessary to progress. This is where Beatdown gets interesting.
In Grand Theft Auto, or any of its numerous clones, you’d accomplish this feat by randomly slugging a pedestrian and taking whatever cash or items they had on hand. Beatdown doesn’t let you do that. Before you can assault anybody, you have to actually TALK to them. And you know what? The citizens of Las Sombras aren’t actually bad people. Some of them are a little antisocial, but the overwhelming majority of them seem content to give you a little bit of advice, pay you a compliment, or simply ask your opinion about something wholly irrelevant. Take, for example, this dude:
This tracksuited fellow can always be found jogging in comically small circles at the Las Sombras basketball courts. Should you interrupt his workout, he’ll cheerfully inquire as to whether you like the sport of basketball. You can answer him however you like. Should you say “yes,” he’ll confide in you that he once hoped to make it to the pros. Should you say “no,” he’ll simply encourage you to give the sport another try. Regardless of your response, you’re then presented with the opportunity to beat the ever-loving dogshit out of him – and there’s really no compelling reason not to. Theoretically, you COULD just go on your merry way, contemplating your own hoop dreams, but to do so would be to forfeit the cash and experience that you need to press onward in your ill-defined quest for revenge. So it goes.
But you can’t just go around chatting up citizens and indiscriminately cold-cocking them willy-nilly, oh no. You see, in Beatdown, your character is being hunted by both the police and rival mobsters. This means that you have two separate “wanted” levels to keep an eye on. The violence you inflict on citizens causes your notoriety with both groups to rise, rendering you prone to random assaults from roving gangs of thugs and police patrols. In most open-world games, simply lying low for a while would cause the heat to die down – but not in Beatdown. Once you’ve raised the ire of your enemies, they’ll stay on you until you affirmatively do something to shake them off.
That “something” is changing your appearance. The “best” way to do this is to get plastic surgery, physically altering your character’s facial features. This will decrease the attention you receive from both cops and robbers. Makes sense, right? They can’t catch you if they can’t recognize you.
For the overwhelming majority of the game, though, plastic surgery is far too expensive a remedy to consider. A new face costs $3,000, and your average citizen is usually carrying less than $20. This means you’ll have to resort to simply changing your clothes or getting a haircut. Each article of clothing you put on impacts BOTH of your wanted levels – some mask you from mobsters while attracting the police, and vice versa. Now, theoretically, this could be an interesting little meta-game, requiring you to carefully engineer your outfit as to garner the absolute minimum amount of attention from your pursuers. Except this whole system is broken. Completely and utterly broken. Just look at this:
There’s no delicate way to state this: dressing like a transvestite hooker always seems to reduce your notoriety to its absolute lowest. You want to walk through the raindrops in Las Sombras? Put on a gold lamé bra and a mini skirt. No one will notice you, I promise. If anyone catches you, you can always switch to a pair of daisy dukes and your favorite Hawaiian shirt.
Keep their eyes on your toned ass, and you can get away with murder. That’s what my grandpap always said, anyway.
Suffice it to say, then, you’ll spend most of Beatdown running around dressed like a gender-confused maniac, engaging people in idle conversation, only to inflict horrific violence on them moments later. It feels like a sociopath simulator more than anything else. And you know what? It’s so absurd, it’s actually kind of fun. Don’t take it from me – take it from Canadian rock legends, Loverboy.
That took three nights to piece together, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Now, if you were watching closely, you might have noticed that occasionally, you are presented with the option to “negotiate” with some of Las Sombras’ residents. “Negotiating” offers the chance to either interrogate, recruit, or rob the citizen in question. “Interrogating” occasionally results in useful information, but more often than not, it yields a useless gameplay tip. “Robbing” is similarly unappealing, simply giving you the option to extract more money from your victim than usual. Recruiting them, though – that’s where the action’s at.
“Recruit” is shorthand for “violently conscript into criminal service.” Once you’ve recruited a new gang member, they’ll follow you around the map, blindly accompanying you into whatever danger you lead them, whether it’s taking down a drug cartel or simply beating up that hobo outside the free clinic.
It bears mentioning that Beatdown has a needlessly complex combat system. Whenever you attempt to recruit a random thug or encounter a boss character, the game takes on the trappings of a fighting game, putting you in a one on one battle against your opponent. There’s sidesteps, juggles, parries, and all sorts of other fighting-gamey things. Each playable character also has cavernously deep move list. You can even learn new moves by beating up an elderly bartender. It’s all surprisingly robust, if not completely unrefined and unnecessary. On the default difficulty, you can simply get away with mashing punch and kick most of the time.
Beatdown also has a number of side-missions, which you can do to earn a little extra scratch to put towards a new halter top. Most of these seem to be either absurd, improperly programmed, or both. Take, for example, the following mission, wherein I was tasked with infiltrating a warehouse to steal some drugs.
Hmm. Looks like the guard won’t let me in unless I’ve got the right ink. Time to go to the free clinic to get a tribal tattoo. Yes, the only place to get tattoos is the free clinic. Astonishingly, everything at the free clinic costs money.
Being either drunk or stupid, I blatantly ignored the option to get a tribal tattoo, instead choosing to get a beautiful rose permanently etched into my upper thigh. That should be good enough, right? That won’t rouse any suspicion from the cartel.
See! What did I tell you? All you have to do is pull down your jorts, show the nice man your rose tattoo, and you can take all the drugs you want. This town isn’t so bad.
Like any good deadbeat townie pal, if Beatdown is guilty of anything, it’s a failure to thrive. It’s got nothing but potential. Solid graphics, a competent fighting system, decent production values… hell, it was published by Capcom. But Beatdown just doesn’t care. What’s the point in trying? It can do crime, but it’s never going to be GTA. If it wanted to, it could be a decent fighting game… but why try. It’s never going to be Tekken. It might as well just sit on its parents couch and coast.
But somewhere in this beautiful disaster, there’s fun to be found. It’s just ridiculous enough to keep you playing. Like your townie pal, you’ll probably forget Beatdown in a few years, but you’ll be happy to have it around before you move on to better things.
I can safely say I got my money’s worth out of Beatdown. It only cost me two bucks. Played on original hardware, upscaled to 1080p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.
As 2014 draws to a close, I’d like to wish all of you the best in the coming year – time to let go of all of the past year’s bad juju and move on with our lives. In 2015, may your enemies know the depth of your mercy, and may your family and friends know the warmth of your love. SONIC BOOOOOOOM!