Jul 132012

Street Fighter 2010 Sticker ImageIn the mid-to-late eighties, making a game for the NES was like having a license to print money. It was almost impossible to do wrong. Games with horrible artwork like the original Mega Man were a success, games with terrible gameplay, such as Athena, were a success, and games with ridiculous storylines and titles were a success. Case in point: Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight. I’ll give you a moment to just say that title out loud and wrap your head around it. While the original Japanese version of the game was simply Street Fighter 2010, the western localizations added The Final Fight which is what really pushes this over the top. You might not immediately realize or remember that this game was released in 1990. Street Fighter II would not be released in arcades for another year. Given that the original Street Fighter was only mildly successful, Final Fight was actually a bigger draw, so adding that name onto the end definitely lured in more potential players. Players who might no have tried it otherwise. Players like me.

Of course, it would only take five seconds of gameplay to discover the immense irony in the game’s title: Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight has nothing to do with Street Fighter or Final Fight. It plays like neither game and has a storyline and continuity all its own. Sure, the localized version of the game says that your protagonist is Ken, the champion from Street Fighter, but it also says he won the street fighting tournament 25 years earlier. Since Street Fighter took place in 1987, that should make this Street Fighter 2012: The Final Fight. If you can’t even get your timeline right, how am I supposed to trust that Ken, who could only even complete Street Fighter under odd gameplay circumstances (*) is who we’re playing?

Alright, alright, enough about the title and story. What about the game, you ask? It’s actually pretty nice and one of those that never really got the respect it deserved (although hardly a timeless classic.) You control “Ken” as he moves from location to location, taking out select enemies to gather energy to power teleportation portals to new areas. Your ultimate goal is to track down the villain who killed your best friend and co-scientist Troy. Some stages have you hunting multiple smaller enemies to build up the necessary energy supply, while others pit you directly against a boss creature.

Street Fighter 2010: Giant Eyeball Boss

When the big boss tells the bad guys to keep an eye out for you, they take it very seriously.

Although you’re a former street fighting champion, you won’t be using any punches or kicks against enemies, at least not directly. Instead, you’ll fire energy projectiles akin to the hadouken fireball used by Ken in Street Fighter. You can launch these with kicks as well, causing them to curve around the screen in wide arcs. The distance for your projectiles begins at a not-very-respectible quarter of the screen, but can be increased with power-ups. You can make incredible jumps, easily climb up walls (or even streams of quicksand) and do backflips, all befitting of someone with your renowned physical prowess, but you don’t get to actually punch or kick anyone.

Street Fighter 2010 is a tough game. Really tough. Although the controls respond well enough, enemies come at you from all directions and it takes precision placement in order to eliminate them without being hit. And you do not want to be hit because, aside from the obvious loss of energy and eventual death, each hit reduces your power-ups by one, which will very quickly eliminate your ability to defend yourself. As it progresses, the game can become very unforgiving and I have no shame in admitting that I never actually beat it without help from my trusty Game Genie.

Street Fighter 2010: The Dune Years

Sure, fighting these enemies is tough and all, but do you know how hard it is to get sand out of powered street fighting armor?

In the graphical arena, the game performs well. The sprites used are small, but well animated. Areas take advantage of the full available palette, even changing the colors used to display your life and power-ups from area to area, to increase the number of available colors (**). Although it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Blaster Master the game looks great. As you would expect from Junko Tamiya, the woman who composed Gun.Smoke and Bionic Commando on the NES and Strider in the arcade, the music for Street Fighter 2010 is energetic, catchy and fits the themes of the game. I wish some of the tracks went a little longer before looping, but shorter music was often a trait of the times.

Ultimately, Street Fighter 2010 works on a number of levels. If you’re looking for a challenge, it will certainly provide that. If you just want to cheat and run around blasting things to pieces while backflipping over alien environments, you can do that as well. With skill, the game can be beaten in half an hour, but the same goes for so many other pure-action games of the time, that it’s hardly a drawback, especially in this day and age of cramped schedules and instant gratification. It may never have been a contender, but it deserves to be given another shot.

* In order to play Ken in the original Street Fighter, a second player would have to join a one-player game in progress and then defeat the first player. After doing so, the second player could continue the game as Ken and potentially win. Without winning a two-player match, no one can play Ken in that game, much less win the tournament.

** The NES can display 16 colors at a time from a palette of 52 total colors. By changing colors from the UI, there were more varied colors available for the game’s graphics. Other games either used a static UI, which reduced graphic colors available, or only made the UI black and white.

Jul 062012

Asylum sticker imageOf all the genres in gaming, perhaps the one which suffered the most tragic death is the text adventure. What started with the simple Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975 matured through the 1980s in the loving care of companies like Infocom, becoming more thorough, immersive and complex. The benefits of the text adventure were many. For one, pure text adventures, like a book, were fueled by imagination. You were fed descriptions and formed your own images which, given good writing, were certainly superior to the 16-color (or possibly monochrome) low-resolution images available at the time. Just as importantly, you were in control. Most games, even in this day, limit your possible actions significantly due to the complexity of programming the results of doing anything you want. Because the only real impact of a command in classic adventure games is the setting of invisible flags and pointers and the output of text (which requires little space or code), your possibilities were amazingly large. If you’ve ever played some of the Infocom games renowned for their complexity like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Trinity, Suspended or Stationfall, you’ll know what I mean.

Eventually, however, the genre of text adventure games died, with a primary reason being the shift in gamer mentality to graphics being an item of significant importance. Although text adventures are still being made, their commercial viability and widespread appeal are a thing of the past. Thus, the storyline for Asylum–that rampant addictions to the virtual worlds created within adventure games caused psychoses that were treated by placing victims in artificial environments that they had to interact their way out of–never came to pass. But that doesn’t make it any less of an interesting game. In Asylum, you play one such patient, forced to move through a large maze while encountering other characters (purportedly cyborgs according to the intro) and interacting with them to solve puzzles and eventually escape.

Asylum is an unusual game, a hybrid of text adventure, graphical text adventure (such as those developed by Magnetic Scrolls) and 3D free movement like an RPG. You use the arrow buttons on the keyboard to navigate a rather nondescript maze, with individual graphic images appearing when something interesting happens–usually an encounter with another character within the maze. Some characters are helpful, some less so, and many are crazy.

Asylum, Another Inmate

This guy? One of the crazy ones. As if the image and descriptor of “quite mad!” didn’t make that clear.

The graphics in Asylum are serviceable. They won’t win any awards or captivate you like something out of The Pawn but they convey the atmosphere well enough. Wander around the maze long enough and meet enough slightly off-kilter inhabitants, and you’ll get the feeling you really are in some sort of rehabilitation center, or possibly just a government experiment.

Like many of its ilk, Asylum has more than its fair share of unusual puzzles, several of which can only be overcome with trial and error–that is, by making a mistake in order to see the result and then act in advance to circumvent that result on your next attempt. For example, violence toward other inmates will be met with electroshock therapy, but such violence is actually required to advance, so it’s only after you’re punished that you even consider sabotaging the electroshock equipment before your next attempt. This can be a bit on the frustrating side, but nowhere near as much so as other cases in the genre like the infamous Babel Fish puzzle in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And of course, you must navigate a maze to make your way around, which can be tricky in and of itself.

One thing Asylum has going for it is the convenience of playing without a time limit and with few (if any) chances of getting stuck without the ability to succeed. Your character needs neither to sleep nor eat, and short of just giving away crucial items for no reason, it’s difficult to back yourself into a corner. Character death is the one thing that will force you to restart your game or load an earlier save and, you usually have to do something overtly dangerous for it to happen. Usually.

Asylum, an Unlikely Death

Death, although not common, can happen anywhere. And yet, at the outset, the game tells you to look everywhere! It’s a trap!

In the end, Asylum is hardly the poster child for excellence in interactive fiction, and yet at the same time it holds a distinctive charm all its own. Would I recommend it for first time text adventurers? Absolutely not–that honor would fall to some of my other favorites such as (in increasing order of difficulty) Wishbringer, Zork I, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Trinity or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But if you feel like you’ve experienced all that text adventures–graphical or otherwise–have to offer, you’ll probably find yourself surprised.