It has been FAR too long – I hope you’ll find that this video retrospective on Gain Ground SX for the PC Engine CD was worth the wait!
Gain Ground SX is an obscure port of an obscure game for an obscure system. Nevertheless, I would HIGHLY recommend it to any TurboGrafx, PC Engine or Sega enthusiast. If you’d rather go the Genesis route, you can grab that port on Steam for about $2.99.
As noted in the video, the music is absolutely spectacular – but don’t take my word for it. Have a listen!
I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t give a quick shoutout to to the the team over at Hardcore Gaming 101. I wouldn’t have even known about the existence of this port if it weren’t for their wonderful book, Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 1. It’s a superb book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in Sega.
World Court Tennis TurboGrafx-16, 1989 Developer: Namco Publisher: NEC
London had become a desolate husk. Other than some sweet “B” ranked gear, jolly old England had nothing to offer me – nothing but a a clue, that is. My next destination was “south of the maze.” Having no idea where the maze was, however, this “clue” was all but useless. Lacking any indication as to where to proceed next, I held my racket aloft and prayed to the spirit of legendary tennis warrior Björn Borg for guidance. I’m pretty sure he told me to head east. This was quite convenient, as it was the only corner of the sub-Spanish dessert continent I had yet to explore.
East of the Spanish desert and the sylvan remnants of England, I found a mountain range, which I assume had to be the Rockies, because that made the least amount of sense. My “B” ranked gear held true, however; my fancy new shirt scared off most of the homicidal tennis cat-men I encountered along the way, and the ones that weren’t frightened away quickly wound up on the wrong side of 40-love.
I emerged from the South Dakota foothills to encounter a small island village, separated from the rest of Tennis Pangaea by the smallest of bridges. This would be the last town I would encounter in my journey. I’m out of geography jokes… so let’s just guess. Canada?
Oh, hi Witt. Something was happening This perversely distorted geographic hellhole was starting to make sense to me.
Toronto was in no better shape than any of the other once-thriving metropolises I had encountered during my quest.
Canada’s most populous city had been reduced to four residents: one shopkeeper, the obligatory greeter, and two canuck lobotomites. Let’s take the grand tour, shall we?
I did not need any more advice on shoes. After all, I had WALKED all the way from Chicago to get here.
An inner tube, you say? What use could that possibly have on a tennis court? Then again, what use did I have for magical pearls? Björn Borg would want me to do this.
Now as for the shop….
“A” ranked gear! My God, could the “A” stand for…
…Agassi? It had to. I couldn’t afford it just yet, but I knew I would need to have the image of a rebel if I was going to take down the Evil Tennis King and marry Brooke Shields. I’d need to earn some money on my tube quest.
Using my new-found prophesied GPS powers, I deduced that the maze had to be somewhere north of Toronto – you know, through the Rockies towards Paris. I steeled myself for the journey ahead and left Toronto with determination in my heart.
Yep, this sure looked like a maze.
It certainly had some labyrinthine qualities.
Yep, some dead ends too.
More than a few, actually.
At long last, after an hour of wandering the misty Canadian mountains, stopping every five steps to tennis battle this disturbed looking individual, I had found it. This had to be where I would find the mysterious inner tube of legend, which would undoubtedly send me floating down the lazy river to glory.
YOU RAT SOUP EATING SPIT CURL HAVING PIECE OF YUKON TRASH! WHO LIVES IN THE MIDDLE OF A MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN MAZE IF THEY HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DISTRIBUTE TO RANDOM QUESTING HEROES? SOME OF US HAVE DAY JOBS! Seriously though, what did this guy eat? The nearest town was three screen lengths away! Tennis balls. It had to be tennis balls. Either that, or he was a cannibal. There’s no wildlife in Tennis Kingdom other than roving cat people and tennis rapists.
…so after about another hour, I found this place.
Thank God. Hey buddy – maybe tell your cannibal clone on the other side of the maze to stop being such a dick. Did this man have any other nuggets of wisdom for me?
FINALLY! USEFUL ADVICE! It was time to put a bullet in this quest. After two hours of wandering near-aimlessly through the Yukon, I was ready to unleash my fury on something. And now I knew exactly where that something was. It was time to take to the seas.
Thankfully, there’s no marine life, tennis frogmen, or any other type of aquatic danger in the seas of Tennis Kingdom. I steered my tube to the North. I didn’t have the power of Agassi yet, nor had I grabbed all of the pearls, but I felt I was ready – my rage would not be quelled.
North of the maze and to the east of Tokyo, I happened upon a secluded castle. Inside…?
SURPRISES indeed! I had at last learned the horrible truth about my adversary. In addition to being green, the EVIL TENNIS KING WAS ALSO THE DEVIL. THE DEVIL. I HAD BEEN TASKED WITH DEFEATING THE DEVIL IN A THREE SET MATCH OF TENNIS. His serve was unbeatable… utterly unbeatable. For all my fury, I was powerless against Beelzebub, lord of the Tennis flies. I would need something more. Something… magic.
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.
Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu: PC Bangai Hen
PC Engine, 1990
Publisher: Naxat Soft
Like many gamers who grew up in the heyday of the NES, I have fond memories of playing Super Dodge Ball. Tecnhos’ 1988 classic was an early highlight in what I lovingly refer to as the “fake sports” genre; a game that, without licensing any official league, athletes, or actual sport, provided you with all of the thrills of a “legitimate” athletic simulation, with a little extra panache to boot. The NES Super Dodge Ball replicated the excitement, drama, and intrigue of fourth period gym without the need for you to actually get beaned in the head by a rubber ball.
That is, when it wasn’t stuttering, blinking, and running at a snail’s pace every time the action picked up. Super Dodge Ball was a great concept, but actually playing it could be extremely frustrating at times. The game’s ambitions far outstripped what its designers were capable of getting out of the NES in 1988. It wasn’t uncommon for sprites to simply vanish from the screen, and the framerate dipped to borderline unplayable levels. It was a lot like playing a UbiSoft game in 2014 (zing!).
So when I learned that Super Dodge Ball had received a facelift for the PC Engine, and that some guy on eBay was selling it for less than $30.00, I knew I had to have it. If the game was halfway decent on the NES, it had to be at least twice as good on PCE, right?
The answer to that seemingly rhetorical question is an emphatic “YES.” The extra power of the PC Engine allows Super Dodge Ball to fully deliver on the promise of its predecessor.
The rules of the game are simple enough. The court is divided into two halves, and each team consists of four infielders and three outfielders. The object of the game is to defeat the opposing team’s infielders. Outfielders are confined to the sidelines on the opposing team’s half of the court – their primary function is to toss the ball back to the infielders, but they are capable of mounting a modest degree of offense as well. Confused? Well, just watch the video at the end of the article and it will all make sense.
So the rules of the game are simple, but… WHY? Why do I want to play dodge ball? I need some motivation!
Well, that’s a good enough reason, I guess. This is the introduction to the game’s Tournament Mode, in which we take team Japan on a globe-trotting quest to prove that the land of the rising sun will not suffer beanballs lightly.
And by “globe-trotting quest,” I mean “charmingly racist dodge ball safari.” You’ll travel to many exotic locales and throw dodge balls at any number of classic ethnic archetypes, including….
Jolly old London town, where you’ll play on the banks of the Thames against a team of angry, pasty, cod eaters!
Iceland! While penguins look on, you’ll battle it out with some vaguely Eskimo looking dudes as you slip and slide over some glaciers!
China! Play against a team of jaundiced obese children in front of a picture of Chairman Mao! Bonus points if you kill some sparrows with your dodge ball.
Kenya, where you’ll play against a team of extremely fast athletes on the sun-scorched Serengeti!
And of course, the worst nation of them all, AMERICA. You’ll compete against a team of roided-out supermen on the top of some fictitious skyscraper frighteningly close to the statue of liberty!
And what is your prize, for defeating this murderers’ row of dodge ball assassins?
Superman descends from the sky to present you with a trophy, of course, presumably renouncing his American citizenship in the process. Nippon ichi!
You can play through tournament mode on loop for hours, but that’s for chumps. The real action is in the PC Engine exclusive QUEST MODE. Why would a dodge ball game have a quest mode, you ask?
Aliens? To quote Will Smith, “AW, HELL NO.” Quest Mode tracks team Japan on its quest to hunt down the intergalactic asshats that wasted some untold amount of fuel to fly to Earth and bean us in the head. How does this play out you ask? Well, surprisingly similar to Tournament Mode, at first. You’re immediately dropped into a match with a rival Japanese team which plays out exactly like any other bout in the game. However, when things finish up, we are presented with… Dialog options?
While I don’t speak a word of Japanese, based purely on gameplay experience, I’m willing to bet the post match conversation between you and the opposing team’s captain breaks down like this:
Him: Yo dawg, good match. You beat us good. Mind if I leave these simps behind and go on the road with you?
You: Hell yeah, brah. We lookin’ for these aliens. They done beaned us in the head.
Him: You serious, man, aliens? Let’s do this.
You: Fo’ sho. Hey, you seen a UFO?
Him:Naw man, try checking any other country with a national dodge ball team.
And that’s exactly how quest mode progresses. You travel from country to country looking for your alien rivals, recruiting each team’s best infielder along the way. Each recruitable player has has two unique “super throws” he can utilize against the enemy, which range from conceivable (100 mph beanball) to absolutely ridiculous (dodge balls dropping from orbit). The catch is that you only have four infielder slots on your team – you have to kick someone off to make room for someone new. You have to pay attention to your adversaries’ skills in order to determine whether they are worth recruiting.
As quest mode progresses, you will slowly discover that alien invaders have been impersonating members of each nation’s dodge ball team.
And as you discover each alien invader, its corresponding nation is wiped off the game’s map, meaning you can no longer recruit from that country.
When you’ve finally uncovered the last of the body-snatching fiends….
Let’s just say it’s a pretty epic conclusion.
All goofiness aside, there’s not much to find fault with in Super Dodge Ball for the PC Engine. It’s a wonderful game with tight controls, colorful graphics, and a refreshing sense of goofiness that is rarely found in the sports games of today, fake or otherwise. Buy it, emulate it, steal it, do what you need to do…. but I heartily recommend that you play this game.
And on that note, I leave you with this – The greatest comeback in fake sports history, as Kenya Bill overcomes insurmountable odds against team Moonman:
 The Japanese name for the console known as the Turbo Grafx in the US.
 The actual name of the game, as indicated at the beginning of this post, is Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu: PC Bangai Hen – Literally, “Hot-Blooded High School Dodgeball Club: PC Extra Edition. For ease of reference, we sill simply refer to the game as Super Dodge Ball.