Category Archives: Konami

#48: Super Probotector: Alien Rebels

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1992 Developer: Konami

Curiously, this game was released as Contra III in the US and Contra Spirits in Japan but was renamed Super Probotector for the European market, and the main characters – two Rambo-esque commandos – were replaced with robots. I have absolutely no idea why the change was made – did Konami think robots would have a stronger appeal for the European market? Or would we be averse to the charms of two All-American heroes?

STOP PRESS: I’ve just done a bit of research about the change to robot characters, and it seems it was done because of a German law that forbade the portrayal of humans killing other humans drafted by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. (Sounds like something out of Big Brother doesn’t it? The book that is, not the TV show.) I presume the law no longer stands, as since Contra: Legacy of War on the Playstation the PAL versions have remained unchanged from the US versions. And come to think of it, if the law was still in place, Germans would face a serious games shortage – no Modern Warfare, no Tomb Raider, no Far Cry, no pretty much anything except Little Big Planet and Mario. But then again, perhaps there’s something to be said for not shooting your fellow human beings in the face… I mean, why can’t we all just get along?

This screenshot is from Super Probotector, but the others are from Contra III (the US version). Note the commando has been replaced with a robot.

Anyway, I digress. Super Probotector was one of my all time favourite games for the SNES. It was rock hard, but the frenetic gameplay and fantastic graphics were more than enough reason to persevere through the endless stream of imaginatively designed enemies. The bosses deserve a special mention – the giant, fire-spewing tortoise at the end of level 1 was a particular delight, and one of the game’s stand-out moments was the reveal of a giant metal skeleton boss (see image further down the page). After seeing off two annoyingly persistent little jumping metal skeleton dudes, their big brother forces his way through the giant metal doors behind you and tries to light you up with his flame breath. Surely a potent warning against picking on the little guys.

Gasp in wonder as the plane swoops towards the screen - all hail Mode 7.

Another stand-out moment was the Mode 7 plane on level 1 (see above), which swooped in and napalmed the ground beneath you. There was a time when all anyone who owned a SNES could talk about was Mode 7 (which was some clever graphical trickery that allowed 2D objects to be stretched and pulled to make them look (sort of) 3D). It was the classic trump card whenever the whole Megadrive v SNES debate reared its ugly head in the playground – the MD owner would sneak in an early attack by mentioning the Sega console’s higher clock speed, which the SNES owner would parry by pointing to the visual wizardry of the Super NES’s Mode 7 genie. The MD owner would then throw down the tried and tested “but the Megadrive has more games”, to which the Nintendo-phile would retort “but the SNES has got Mario”, and so on, and so on, until fisticuffs ensued or a teacher intervened.

One of the occasional top-down sections.

I recently downloaded an XBLA trial game of an early version of Contra (not Contra III – I think it was Contra II, which originally came out on the NES). I’d forgotten just how difficult and unforgiving the Contra games are – being hit by even one bullet means instant death, and some absolutely pixel-perfect jumping is required to avoid the various hazards thrown at you. Back in ’92 I would happily keep retrying again and again to get through Super Probotector, but now the prospect of instant deaths, limited lives and no save game fills me with dread. After less than half an hour I gave up playing the demo, and couldn’t bring myself to purchase the full game.

All of the game's bosses were kind enough to reveal their weak spot with a great big red dot. Aim for the mouth my friend, aim for the mouth...

I guess it goes to show that the way I play games has changed – for me it’s not so much about the challenge nowadays as just wanting to see what comes next. I think games designers have realised this too – at some point they cottoned onto the fact that a lot of gamers just gave up if a game was too hard, which meant that most people would never get to see all of the lovingly created levels that the designers came up with. It’s safe to say that modern games are easier as a result – but there’s always the option to play on hard for the real masochists out there.

But all of this thoughtful chin-stroking still doesn’t change the fact that Super Probotector is one of my all time favourite games – I might have moved away from playing unforgiving hardcore shoot ’em ups, but this game is a shining example of the genre. Any game that features a level in which you hang from the underside of a missile while shooting down an enormous alien spaceship must be doing something right.

Lewis

Screenshots from www.vgmuseum.com.

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Filed under 1992, Konami, Run and Gun, Super NES

#39: Ring of Red

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Turn-Based Tactics/Mech Game Released: 2000 Developer: Konami

It was surprisingly difficult to buy computer games in Japan – in fact, in the two years I lived there I only bought a handful of PS2 games. That’s not so say that games weren’t easily available – my local electronics store was crammed to the rafters with them – but actually finding games that only required a basic understanding of Japanese was a demanding task.

I found that the vast majority of video games in Japan were either RPGs or sports titles: unfortunately, the masses of Japanese dialogue ruled out the RPGs, and sports games have never really interested me (and especially not baseball games, which are hugely popular in Japan). The remainder was made up of popular Japanese series such as Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid, along with various manga crossovers (such as Naruto) and creepy dating games. Western staples, such as FPSs and driving games, only constituted a tiny minority, and my gaming diet in Japan mostly consisted of the odd Western import (Medal of Honor, Burnout 3) and a smattering of oddball Japanese titles (Katamari Damacy, Mr. Mosquito 2).

Infantry are key to success - your mech is almost helpless without their support.

After dejectedly ploughing my way through Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (not recommended), I was in the mood for something a bit different, which was when I came across Ring of Red. I bought it on a whim, and was surprised when it turned out to be one of the most interesting and compelling games I’ve played. It’s set in an alternative version of the 1960s where Japan didn’t surrender and WW2 dragged on into a protracted land war – which inevitably involved the development of mechs (this is Japan after all). After WW2 Japan was separated into Communist North Japan and Democratic South Japan, and the game starts as tension between the two sides is beginning to build (you can read more about the plot here).

Some of the mechs are capable of melee combat.

The mechs in this game are wonderfully primitive machines, all whirring cogs and smoking exhausts, and their movements are delightfully clunky and noisy, which makes a change from the sleek, futuristic machines found in most other mech games. Battles are turn-based, but each turn is governed by a strict time limit, so the action never really lets up. As with almost all turn-based strategy games, the core experience is basically two sets of stats gradually being reduced until one side has zero, but the game does an admirable job of papering over this with various strategic choices and special moves. One of the best features is aiming the cannon on your mech: the screen switches to the view of a target hovering wildly over the enemy, accompanied by the sound of your heartbeat; the longer you wait, the less erratically the target moves, but wait too long and you risk the enemy firing back. It’s a neat system and it really helps to build tension.

One of the long-range artillery mechs - basically a massive gun on legs.

The major downside is the repetition – inevitably the skirmishes get a little samey, although unlocking special moves keeps things interesting as you play on. The most frustrating thing about the game was not being able to understand the dialogue, but I managed to get the gist of what was going on… most of the time at least. Although I’m still not quite sure what happened at the end. In fact, the ending was a little abrupt in my opinion, which was annoying considering the amount of time I’d spent getting there. But then again I’ve seen much worse – the Playstation version of GTA2 springs to mind. It didn’t even have a cut scene at the end, just a black screen with the words ‘Game Over – Thank you for Playing!’

Tsk.

The lightweight mechs rely heavily on infantry support.

I can’t put my hand on my heart and say that Ring of Red is one of the best games ever made, but then that’s not the point of this list. In an ocean of lacklustre manga spin-offs, endless baseball sims and dodgy games featuring scantily-clad Japanese schoolgirls on their covers, Ring of Red was a beacon of hope – and for that it deserves celebrating.

Lewis

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Filed under 2000, Konami, Mech Game, Playstation 2, Turn-Based Tactics

#27: Silent Hill

Format: Playstation Genre: Survival Horror Released: 1999 Developer: Konami

This game deserves an honourable mention simply for scaring the bejesus out of me. Looking back at it now, you’d find it hard to believe that the slightly shonky graphics and shambling animation would be enough to scare anyone, but somehow the game succeeds in creating a very creepy atmosphere indeed.

Silent_Hill_PAL_box

The key to this creepiness is the sound. Early in the game the hero, Harry Mason, finds a radio that seems to be broken. However, after being attached by some sort of naked mutant pterodactyl, he quickly realises that the radio emits static whenever a monster is nearby.

The radio is a stroke of genius. It means that you know a monster is coming long before you actually see it, allowing the anticipation to build and build and causing you to imagine things that are probably a lot worse than what’s actually around the corner. Couple this with your relative helplessness (unlike Resident Evil, you spend most of the game with nothing more lethal than a crowbar as your weapon), and you’ve got the makings of a real nerve-jangler.

A naked mutant pterodactyl, yesterday.

A naked mutant pterodactyl, yesterday.

The stand out moment for me occurred right near the beginning. I was taking it in turns to play the game with my university housemate Chris. Chris was in control, and we were exploring the elementary school. The school seemed deserted, but after we passed by one particular door, the radio started going crazy. Chris looked at me.

“Shall I go in?”

I gave the nod to open the door.

The room seemed empty as Harry swept his flashlight around, until something moved in the corner…

“WHAT THE HELL IS IT????” Chris shouted.

It was a baby.

A ghost baby.

And it scared the hell out of us.

silent hill larval stalker

The Larval Stalker (just about visible as the black shape). Brrrr.

We fled the school room in terror, only to gingerly step back in, crowbar at the ready, to ascertain the nature of this malevolent beast. As it turned out, it was completely harmless (I later found out that these creatures are called Larval Stalkers – stupid name if you ask me), but the game designers did a fantastic job of scaring the willies out of the both of us.

It seems utterly ridiculous now that we were both terrified of something so trivial, but it just goes to show that the scariest stuff is what actually comes out of your own head – the imagined terror will always be worse than the reality.

Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Konami, Playstation, Survival Horror