In a dark and distant time, before Capcom made their fortune with videogames about large men punching each other, they did release some other games. Their 1988 coin-op Mad Gear is certainly one of them!

If the name sounds familiar, that's because Capcom later re-used it as the named of the villainous, Mayor-baiting gang from Final Fight. This isn't a fighting game, though. Oh no, this is a racing game... well, not a racing game as such, because you're not really in competition with the other cars. So, it's more of a "move forward quickly" game, I guess. It may not have direct competition between the racers, but what it does have is some high-grade 1980's Engrish, as seen during the attract mode. Let's take a look!

"Today is opening day of "WORLD RACE 24" the most dangerous rally in the world. Daredevils are coming for the rally award USD 1,000,000.-."
Okay, that's all understandable enough. You get the idea that there's a dangerous rally with a million-dollar prize, at least. However, this level of clarity obviously cannot be sustained, and the second paragraph is a doozy:
"Hero FRED whispering to himself "What type of cars is most easy-driving for me?" Then FRED challenging the race."
While it's not quite as glorious as Violence Fight's explanation of the battle to become the No. 1 Quarreler, it's still fantastic stuff, particularly because it makes FRED sound like a schizophrenic who mutters to himself about easy-driving and race-challenging while performing surgery on himself to remove the secret tracking devices the Shadow Government have implanted in his cerebellum.
The obvious question that needs answering here is which car is the most easy-driving? Well, here are your three choices:

There's the F-1 Machine, which is obviously the fastest but eats fuel at an alarming rate. Despite its speed, it's probably not the best choice. Then there's the Porsche 959, and I'm fairly certain that Capcom didn't have any kind of licence to use the Porsche name. That didn't stop them though, and, it's a decent all-rounder, as you might expect. Finally there's the Convoy, a big Optimus Prime-style lorry with a fuel tank bigger than Piers Morgan's ego but only a fraction as oily. It's probably my favourite, due both to its fuel management and its afore-mentioned resemblance to the heroic leader of the Autobots.

Car selected, the WORLD RACE 24 begins. The gameplay simple; your car stays at the bottom, the screen scrolls forward at a fair old lick, and you simply have to move left and right to avoid the various obstacles thrown at you.

Your car also has the ability to jump into the air at the touch of a button. Fair enough (maybe) in the F-1 Machine and the Porsche, but the Convoy? I have to question the sanity of the person who thought that having the hundred-ton truck bound into the air using magical fairy wings or however the fuck it jumps was a good idea. It's a stroke of luck that a complete psychopath designed the jumping truck, however, because in a similarly insane decision, the race organiser have set the race route over the most badly-maintained roads they could find, littered with chasms, floating remnants of motorways and dinosaur skeletons. Yes, it's WORLD RACE 24, brought to you by the same people who created HAND-GRENADE TENNIS and PARTIALLY-MELTED LAKE FIGURE SKATING. It's not an exaggeration to say that you spend around 50% of your time in the air. Makes you wonder why they didn't just make it a flight sim, really.

Your greatest enemy is not the other competitors, or the road conditions (I was going to make a joke about Sheffield City Council here, but that would be rather solipsistic of me, wouldn't it? Also, it probably wouldn't have been funny). Your true nemesis is the dread power of the Fuel Meter. You can see it on the screen shots, it's the green bar at the top. It constantly drains as you drive around, and you lose a hefty chunk of it if you fall into one of the many holes in the road or your car explodes, and when your fuel is empty, it's game over. So, energy / fuel is important, and you have to make sure you pick it up when you see it (in the form of petrol canisters) lying in the road or occasionally flying in the air tied to a balloon. It's not as though you could possibly forget that your car has an unquenchable thirst that must be attended to at all times, because any time your fuel drops below about a quarter full, the game shouts "You're running out of energy!" at you until you pick up some petrol. You will hear the phrase "You're running out of energy!" a lot when you play Mad Gear. In fact, you'll hear it pretty much constantly during the later stages. It might even have become the new holder of the "Most Frequently Heard Sound Effect" trophy, because not even the amount of "SHORYUKEN!" you hear when playing Street Fighter IV online can compete. It is not an award that comes with a lot of kudos.

There's really not that much more to say about Mad Gear than that, really. The gameplay is simple and it doesn't change any during the various stages. One odd thing is that your car doesn't really turn when you move it left and right; it just sort of slides around. Maybe it was just me, but it felt a little peculiar, like I wasn't really in control of what was going on. Not that it matters, because all there is to it is making sure you slide into the right positions to pickup the extra fuel and timing your jumps correctly. After nine or so stages, the game is completed, and there's a little more Engrish:

"We've made it. I am vary glad that I was with, you. I will keep this memory deep into my ram and I will never forget this. I hope to see you again."
Wait a minute, my car was some kind of goddamn sentient super-car who has just left me a touching message to tell me he will never forget the adventures we had together? Why wasn't this mentioned before!? You would think they would have made a selling point out of the fact that your car possessed some kind of artificial intelligence and possibly human emotions. I guess this means it was actually my car bleating "You're running out of energy!" at me. If I'd known sooner, I would have ripped out his voicebox.

Mad Gear, then. It's exactly the sort of simple driving game that you would expect to find in the arcades of the late 80's. It's by no means a bad game: it's certainly fast, the music is good and I really like the chunky vehicle sprites. There's just not that much to it. So, if you fancy a quick blast of arcade fun and you have a high tolerance of irritating sound effects, then give it a go.

One last thing though: pictured above is the arcade flyer for Mad Gear. Despite the fact that the game is clearly set in the future, (actually, I think it's supposed to be set in 2011, which barely qualifies as the future these days,) the flyer depicts some kind of 1950's James Dean scenario, where cool guys in leather jackets with cigarettes dangling from their lips drive about in sentient Formula 1 cars. Now that is a game I would like to play, but such a game does not exist outside my fevered imagination. And on that note of disappointment, goodbye until next time!



Apropos of nothing, here are ten excellent Megaman and Megaman X remixes!
For those of you that are using Firefox and would like to have these remixes as MP3s, then this little gizmo might be of use to you.

Hikarisy: Snake Man

My favourite stage music from Megaman 3 gets a rockin' heavy metal version, and it suits it perfectly. Hikarisy has a few other Megaman remixes on Youtube, and they're all pretty fantastic.

Onocchi: Armored Armadillo

Armored Armadillo has the best music in the whole of the Megaman X series, which is high praise indeed when you consider how good the first three MMX soundtracks are (and the rest are good too, just not as good). Another high-energy metal remix, it starts off as an excellent version of one of the more difficult MM songs to play, but then at around the 0:58 mark, more guitars are added and the whole thing goes into some kind of blissful super-rock overdrive. There's a link in the YouTube description that'll take you to Onocchi's site, where you should download all his videogame remixes because they're fantastic.

Chiptuned Rockman - Kaze Yo Tsutaete (Buster Core Meltdown mix)

It's Roll's Theme, originally from Megaman Battle and Chase and also heard in Marvel vs Capcom and Tatsunoko vs Capcom. However, it has been recreated in glorious 8-bit NES sound, and the end result (like pretty much every track on the Chiptuned Rockman album) is truly glorious. Check out the bit at 2:24 where she says "Megaman!" in her little chiptune voice: it is sound to warm even the coldest of hearts.

The Megas - Annihilation of Monsteropolis (Airman)

A lot of you have probably heard of The Megas, a band who record vocal versions of classic Megaman tunes. They are excellent. So excellent, in fact, that Capcom used some of their music in the official trailers for Megaman Universe, and praise doesn't come much higher than that. I had a very hard time choosing which one to include on this list, but I went for Airman mostly due to the lyrics in the chorus. Genius!

? - Gravity Man

Included in this list for two reasons: One, Gravity Man and his theme are both awesome and do not get enough recognition. Secondly, it's pretty much Megaman jazz, especially at between 1:20 and 1:36. Nice samples, too.

Dangerous Mezashi Cat - Megaman 3 Title Rock Remix

Megaman 3 is always the first thing I think of when it comes to the Blue Bomber, and especially the title music. Here it gets a lovely rock remixing, as is befitting the opening to such an epic game as MM3.

McVaffe - Cutman Sonata

As you may have noticed, my musical tastes run more toward the heavy side of things, but I'm certainly not immune to the charms of more gentle music. With that in mind, here is a brilliant interpretation of Cutman's theme as a haunting piano sonata. I remember listening to this when I was still in school, all those many moons ago, and it's stayed with me ever since. If you want a remix that thinks outside the box, then this is it.

Alph Lyla - Scrapping Beat (Flame Mammoth)

A bit of a cheat, this one, as it was remixed by Capcom's former in-house band Alph Lyla. That doesn't stop it being great, though, with some deepy excellent drumming and a distinctly un-Megaman jazz flavour. It might not be to all tastes, but I love it, and the album of MMX remixes it comes from is well worth tracking down.

Daveeeey - Plug Man with MMX2 Instruments

The title says it all, really. Plug Man's theme from Megaman 9, recreated using sound samples taken directly from Megaman X2. A simple idea, but one that works brilliantly and will have you longing for a new SNES-style Megaman X game instead of the rubbish recent ones. Also check out his versions of Castlevania tracks using the same idea, which I think might be even better than the Megaman ones.

? - Skull Man Guitar Arrange

And finally, one of my very favourites. This captures the essence of Skull Man's music perfectly, with the added bonus of rocking harder than a concrete rocking-horse. Short, sweet and to the point, it'll make you wish Capcom would release the older Megamans with this type of music.

And that's it for now. That lot should give you something to listen to, eh? I'm always open to people suggesting Megaman (or any game, really) remixes for me to listen to, so if you know of something you think I'd like, let me know in the comments!



It sometimes surprises people to learn that, although I most assuredly am a colossal nerd, I am also a big football fan (I mean the one where you use your feet, for any Americans that may be reading). Obviously, these days football games boil down to two things: either FIFA or Pro Evo. That didn't used to be the case though, and every manner of football sim ranging from the serious (like Striker) to the non-so-much (good ol' Sensible Soccer) and every shade inbetween. Today I'll be looking at a football game from the slightly more bizarre end of the spectrum: SNK's 1995 arcade Beautiful-Game-em-up Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory.

Starting, as seems sensible, at the most obvious place: what's going on with that name? I have no idea what a Sidekick is in relation to association football, although to me it sounds like a cynical sideways swipe at an opposing player. Give him a good Sidekicking in the first few minutes, let him know you're there, that sort of thing. The title must have been chosen specifically for the non-Japanese market, because the Japanese title is Tokuten Ou 3 - Eikoue no Michi, which translates as "Goal-Scoring King 3 - Path to the Glory". Quite why they didn't just call it Goal King or something similar, I don't know. Maybe they had come up with the Super Sidekicks name and they just couldn't bear not to use it, and to hell with anyone who might not know what the dickens they were talking about. Ever the radicals, SNK.

So, a football game. You know the basics: score more goals than the other team. As it's an arcade/Neo-Geo game, the controls are fairly simple. When attacking, you have a one button for shooting or an on-the-floor pass, one button for a long pass and one for an almost useless short pass (and I mean three-inches-ahead-of-you short). In defence, you have a button to switch players, one to slide tackle and one to thump your opponent as hard as possible. Yes, you can foul away to your heart's content, using such vicious techniques as shoulder barges, Nigel De Jong vs Xabi Alonso kicks to the chest and what appears to be E. Honda's flying headbutt. Excellent. While you can be penalised for using them, it seems almost impossible to get sent off in SSK3, to the point where I spent five whole games doing nothing but fouling, trying to get a man sent off. Nothing doing, the game said, apparently assuming that the hundreds of penalties I gave away in the process were punishment enough.

It's certainly a change from the realism of Pro Evo, I can tell you. In fact, you can play the game perfectly well using only the shoot/low pass/slide tackle button: anything more intricate is wasted on SSK3. Long, flowing sequences of pass-and-move football are out of the question, as are crossing and any long ball of any type, really. Short, simple passes and mazy runs are the way to go here. Shooting is a strange thing: normally, the shoot button performs a short-ish pass, but when you get close to goal, a "SHOOT!" marker appears above the player's head, and if you press the button in that situation he, well, shoots. Occasionally a "CHANCE!" marker appears instead, and pressing shoot here brings up a strange first-person view where you have to place a crosshair over the goal and hope a defender doesn't walk in front of it (for their own sake, mostly). The goalkeepers are superhuman in their shot-stopping ability, though, so really the only way to score is to blast it at the keeper and hope the rebound lands kindly enough for you to knock it into the open goal.
The real joy of SSK3 isn't in the gameplay, though. No, being a Japanese Neo-Geo game, it is permeated with a kind of over-the-top madness usually reserved for giant robot animes and fever dreams. This is mostly brought across with the short scenes that appear after any major incident. Obviously, scoring a goal is a major incident, and your players erupt into a technicolour orgy of giant celebrating sprites each time you score.

Yes, the guy on the right is flying into the arms of his teammate, presumably to clasp him in a passionate embrace. Although, the guy on the left appears to be dislocating his own jaw, ready to swallow his incoming teammate whole.

You can take this image one of two ways: either the goalscorer in the middle is joyously celebrating scoring a goal on the international stage, possibly marking the pinnacle of his footballing career, or he's just been informed that a drug baron has killed his family and he's fallen to his knees in a anguished scream, like the start of an '80 action movie. I prefer the latter.

Of course, someone has to suffer when a goal goes in, and here we see the opposition in despair. Due to some none-too-convincing perspective in this picture, it looks more like a giant goalkeeper arcing his body to shelter a tiny man from the sun, like some FIFA-sanctioned version of Gulliver's Travels.

It's not just goals that spark these mini-cutscenes, as we can see from the above shot, taken just after I kicked a guy so hard I wounded him. Not injured, wounded. He's being shipped home from the front lines as we speak with an honourable discharge and a shiny new medal. Although the player on the left is struggling on even after his left arm has fallen off, so maybe the wounded player should just man up.

Sometimes when a player is fouled, they will "Psyche Up", which mostly seems to make them burst into flames. He doesn't look all that psyched: he looks more like he's in agony because he's on fire. But that's not enough for some players, oh no. Sometime a regular psyche-up isn't enough...

SUPER PSYCHE UP! I can't help but feel that a psyche-up where you clench your fists isn't nearly as SUPER as one where you spontanously catch fire. Look at that face, though. He's definitely riled up about something.

Jesus Christ, look at his eyes! He's snapped!


That terrifying visage isn't the only only great thing about Super Sidekicks 3. The sounds is fantastic, too. First of all, there's the announcer / commentator, a man so infused with a love, nay, a lust for football that I'm worried his brain is going to chisel its way out of his skull and jump onto the pitch. There's a video coming up in a moment; just listen to the way he hollers the game's title. This man is a hero, and should be saluted. So, I salute you, Mr. Commentator, whoever you are!
The other bit of sound-related fun is that fact that every time you kick the ball, it makes a roaring blast of a noise that would sound more at home in Street Fighter. It certainly doesn't sound like a man kicking a football, I know that much.

Finally, there are the teams and players themselves. There are plenty of countries to play as, from footballing giants like Brazil and Holland to the much more interesting teams like Zaire and Hong Kong. Of course, you don't get any licensed players, but some players are more unlicensed than others, if you get my drift. For example, here's one of England's players:

A striker called Scherer who is in no way Geordie goal-scoring legend and dull TV pundit Alan Shearer. My personal favourite of these "homages" is Mexico's goalkeeper, who is quite clearly the infamously bizarre Jorge Campos.

How can I tell? Because Campos was famous for designing his own truly vile goalkeeper kits, which the game does a fairly good job of recreating. I say fairly good, because nothing can match up to the retina-frying horror of an actual Campos-designed kit. Don't believe me? Then take a look at this:

As a famous greasy stereotype once said, there is no emoticon for what I am feeling. Another thing I like is that fact that the many different races in the game are represented by the same sprites that have simpy been recoloured. Going back to the super-psyche-up shot, here's an example:

It does lead to some rather strange-looking combinations, like the blonde guy on the right there, but then oddness runs through this game like E. Coli through a fairground burger.

And that's Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory. Gameplay-wise, it's a good, fun, solid arcade goal-em-up, especially if played in short bursts. But it's that sense of uniquely Japanese, hot-blooded, hyper-colourful madness that gives it an extra spark and makes it something I really enjoyed playing. Maybe you'll enjoy it too, so give it a go, even if you don't like football. Hell, especially if you don't like football, as it bears little resemblance to actually, you know, playing football. So, try for THE NEXT GLORY!



What with me talking about the likes of Monster Maulers, Money Idol Exchanger and Growl recently, VGJUNK was starting to look like some fluffy magical gumdrop world where everything is made of twinkling roses and powdered kittens, a strange place where I ended up rather enjoying all the games I played. Well, you can forget all that today, as it's off to the Megadrive where I'll be playing Aisystem Tokyo's ball-busting assault on the laws of physics, Devilish.

Although, I played the Japanese version, which is called Bad Omen, which is what I'll be calling it from now on. It's contradiction time already, because although I've already said Bad Omen is rubbish, (and it is,) it does have some good things goin' on. The first of these is the plot, which may be the greatest plot to any videogame ever. The plot is that a demon, whose name is a symbol à la Prince, sees a happy prince and a happy princess and becomes terribly jealous. The demon decides to destroy their happiness; but how? Raise a demonic army to enslave them and their people? Fry them with his evil fire-breath? No, he chooses an altogether... different approach.

That's right. He turns them into two stone paddles. As revenges go, it's hardly up there with your Titus Andronicus-style cannibalism revenge; hell, it's not much better than clingfilm over the toilet bowl. I have come up with three possible explanations for this strange plot:
1) The demon only knew one magic spell, which happened to be one that turns royalty into stone paddles.
2) While fooling around with dark forces that they didn't fully comprehend, the prince and princess accidentally turned themselves into stone paddles and made up the whole "evil demon was jealous" excuse to spare their blushes, or,
3) Lots of hallucinogens.
Whatever the reason, the stage is set for Bad Omen. The stone paddles may have tipped you off as to what kind of game Bad Omen is already, but in case they haven't, it is a clone of Breakout / Arkanoid. You control a paddle (or in this case two), moving from side to side as a ball bounces up and down the screen. You have to get your paddle in the way to stop the ball from falling off the bottom of the screen, smashing whatever bricks are in your way at the top of the screen. You know the one, you've probably played it a million times, or possibly you played it once, realised it was dull as sin and never played it again. Well, that's the basic premise of Bad Omen, although it does feature a few minor complications. The first is that you have two paddles positioned above eachother. You control them at the same time, but the bottom paddle can only move left-to-right, while the top paddle can go anywhere it damn well chooses. I assume that there are two paddles to facilitate the two-player mode, but I didn't try it, so I wouldn't know. It's not that I don't have any friends, it's just that the reason they remain my friends is because I don't make them play shitty games like Bad Omen with me.
The top paddle can also rotate 90 degrees, allowing you to bounce the ball left or right. This comes in useful for Bad Omen's other twist on a tired old concept. Rather than a static playing screen, in Bad Omen you have to move the ball up the screen (and sometimes left or right) to progress, like a kind of platform-game version of Breakout, if you will, with each stage even having a boss at the end.
A couple of things before we dive into the painful experience of actually playing the game. For some odd reason, whenever there is a screen transition outside the main game, (between levels, for example,) it is accompanied by a demonic zip.

The screen gets unzipped by that thing there, the most HEAVY METAAAAL clothes fastener I have ever seen. Peculiar. The other is that you get a nice bit of digitised speech when you start the game:

If it didn't say Bad Omen right there, I would have considerable difficulty telling you what he's supposed to be saying, which is exactly as it should be. Personally, I think it sounds more like he's saying "Black Oven".

Anyway, the game itself. You start off in a small village-like area, although the game refers to it as "Graveyard" and there are certainly skeletons around, fire-breathing ones that knock your ball about. There are some little demon guys too, but they're not much hassle, and you'll mostly be concentrating on smashing the many, many bricks in front of you to get to the end of the stage. It all sounds very jolly, but it doesn't take long for Bad Omen's problems to become apparent. The main one, and it's a pretty insurmountable one, is that the ball physics is dreadful. Your ball careers off flat surfaces, including your paddles, at wildly inconsistent angles. God help you if it bounces off something that isn't smooth, because the ball can and will go anywhere except where you might reasonably expect it to go. Add to that the fact that sometimes the ball inexplicably passes through the paddle, and it makes you wonder about the people who made this game. After all, they managed to take a game mechanic that worked perfectly well fifteen years before this game was released and screw it up royally. It's like taking the spark plugs out of a Rolls Royce engine and replacing them with chocolate replicas.
Did I mention that this game has bosses? They're not even made of bricks! (Well, one of them is). Stage one's boss is this demon.

Sadly, not the demon that caused all this mess, because then the game would be a lot a) shorter, b) easier and c) better. Much, much better. I'm sure you can figure out how you defeat this boss. If not, I fear there may be something wrong with the very cells of your brain.

Stage two is set in a clock tower, and it all goes a bit Castlevania. There are some sections where the ball is carried around between the teeth of some giant cogs (as shown above), which would be fine but sometimes they get stuck and fall irretrievably off the bottom of the screen. Thanks for that. I'd rather deal with Medusa Heads. The boss is a clock, and you beat it by getting your ball to fall into one of the holes corresponding to the number on its face. I have no idea if it's random, or you have to get them in certain holes; all I know is that I fluked it, and I was glad to see the back of it.

Stage three is in Waterfall country, and as you can probably guess, the waterfalls push your ball the wrong way. Not that there ever seems to be a right way, and thus we have stumbled across another of Bad Omen's major flaws: it's all luck. You never seem to have even a modicum of control, and everything is left to the fickle gods of fortune, which does not make for a satisfying gaming experience. The only thing of any merit contained in level three is the boss, the Treant pictured above. His main merit? He looks like he should be in Altered Beast, or perhaps more like a parasitic twin surgically removed from Whispy Woods.

Stage four is the Seaside, and the side of the sea they mean is the underside. This is probably the most bullshitty stage in the game, for reasons that are probably apparent when you look at the picture above. You can't see anything! It's like trying to play the game with some net curtains stapled over your eyes. Add to that the fact that you're barely given enough time to finish the stage (didn't I mention you're timed? Well, you are) and throw in some enemies that can paralyse you for what feels like a geological age, and you have a nice recipe for a pad being hurled out of a window, preferably into one of those machines that crushes cars into cubes. The bosses are this pair of watery dicks:

They're called Undine, and their vaguely tentacular bodies and round mouths make me wish I was playing Day of the Tentacle instead.

Next up is a volcano. Those faces in the shot above can extend their mouths and grab your ball. And then they just hold onto it. And hold onto it. And hold onto it. FOREVER. There is a section where four of them are positioned next to eachother, and they just casually passed the ball between them for one hundred thousand years. Also, the volcano has smaller volcanoes inside it. Is that even possible? Please, if you're a geologist, let me know. The boss is a volcano too, but his only attack is to create more balls for you to keep in the air.

Finally you reach the demon's lair, which is apparently on a "Prairie". Rather than being a little house, it's a maze of tight, winding passageways that you must navigate your ball through using the game's imprecise and inconsistent controls. It is exactly as frustrating as it sounds. The final boss draws near, probably rueing the fact that he'd built his lair out of the very blocks that only two stone paddles and a magic ball could break. Serious lack of foresight there, buddy.

There are three of him, and there's a heart in the middle that you have to hit to hurt him/them. He only really has one attack, which is to throw a load of balls onto the playing field, hoping you will lose track of which is yours and let it fall. Luckily, I got the ball stuck between the heart and the top of the screen where it bounced back and forth, allowing me defeat the demon in what might well be record time. Thus, the game is complete and the paddly royalty are returned to their rightful forms.

The prince appears to have a pegleg in that shot.

As I'm sure you've probably guessed, I didn't like Bad Omen very much. As I said, it has a couple of things going for it, one being the mad-as-a-bag-of-weasels plot. The other is the music, which is really very good. It was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, better known these days for his work with Square-Enix on titles such as Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics (a real favourite of mine), and it is one of the best Megadrive soundtracks I have ever heard.
Highlights include the introduction music, which makes the goofy plot just that bit more touching, which is no easy feat:

The first stage music is great too, especially the bass sound.

And finally, the Seaside stage music, which is far superior to anything Sakimoto did for FFXII. All the music is on YouTube, so you should check it out.

And that's Bad Omen / Devilish, a game that took a perfectly servicable (if admittedly dull) gameplay mechanic, broke it, and then slapped on a vague fantasy setting and some great music. Do yourself a favour and don't play it!



Videogame developers, particularly those working in the Nineties and especially those making beat-em-ups, were not afraid to design their characters based up the best information they had at the time: crude racial stereotypes! In the first of what will probably end up being a series, I'll be looking at some of the many easily-pigeonholed fighters to have emerged from Mother Russia over the years.

Zangief, Street Fighter II

Starting with the obvious? Why, yes I am. Everyone knows Zangief, and everyone knows he's the very embodiment of the stereotypical Russian videogame character. He's big, he's slow, he's powerful and he likes to Cossack dance (but then again, who doesn't?), which is a pattern that pixellated Soviets have followed ever since.

There are a couple of things that you might not know about the 'Geif: one is that he was originally going to be called Vodka Gobalsky. I'm kind of disappointed that this was dropped. Okay, very disappointed. It also points toward the idea that most Russian characters are filthy lushes who get through vodka like, let's say, soda pop (more on that later). The other thing you might not know is that, in the minds of Capcom of Japan at least, Zangief is quite possibly gay. Yes, between some win-quotes about how he dislikes beautiful women, the fact that the idea in Japan is that big, burly, hairy men are more likely to be gay, and this image;

taken from his Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo ending (note the picture of Vega pinned to the mirror), there is plenty of speculation. Not that it matters, because he is a man who wrestles bears for fun. If only you could wrestle a bear, perhaps you wouldn't be such a disappointment to your mother and I.

Soda Popinski, Punch-Out!!
Soda Popinski was probably many people's first encounter with a Russian cliche that wanted to punch them, and he's stood the test of time as a fan favourite. In a game that really was a cavalcade of vaguely-offensive ethnic stereotypes, Soda really stands out, mostly because his original was Vodka Drunkenski. Unlike Zangief, however, his original grain-liquor-based name actually made it off the drawing board and into the original Super Punch Out!! arcade machine, only being changed for the home releases due to Nintendo's strict no-alcohol policy. It didn't really make that much difference though, because Soda's between-rounds quotes were still things like "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight I am very prepared!" which even as a kid I knew didn't refer to soft drinks. Between Soda and Zangief, it would seem that Russian fighters have something of a monopoly on awesome facial hair.

Jack, Tekken
Is Jack really Russian, considering he's a robot? Well, he was built by a guy called Dr. Boskonovich, so I'm going to allow it. Plus, he's pretty much the definition of the cold, emotionless Soviet weapon, (being a robot and all,) even looking like Ivan Drago from Rocky. I think it's the hair. Sadly, Jack is probably the dullest of the Russians on this list, and I've only included him due to fond memories of inducing apopleptic rage in my younger brothers by beating them on the original Tekken by repeatedly mashing triangle while playing as Jack. Godspeed, you lumpy Russian failure.

Ivan, Battle Clash

It isn't just human fighters that suffer from this stereotyping; even robots, as seen here in the form of Ivan and his robot from Battle Clash, are affected. Like his compatriots in this list, his robot is huge, can barely move and is much more concerned with defence than attack. You would think that all these giant leaps in the field of robotics would afford the Russians a chance to break free of their traditional category by building a machine that is faster than a whippet with a live electrical cable shoved up its backside, but falls apart if you so much as look at it funny. Sadly, I think the Italians have already cornered this market for their sports cars, so poor old Ivan has to suffer the indiginity of essentially being trapped in a giant (yet not bullet-proof) metal box.

Biff Slamkovich, Saturday Night Slam Masters

Yet another Russian who suffered a name change, Biff is known in the Japanese version of SNSM as Alexey Zazalov, and he's something of a break in tradition as he's the closest thing the game has to a main character. More importantly, his backstory in the Japanese version is that he was trained by none other than The Mayor of Justice, The Uncivil Servant, Metro City's Finest: Mike Haggar, in what has to rank as the greatest ever example of cooperation between East and West. Sadly, he could not teach Biff how to grow a bitchin' moustache, and he's really letting the side down in terms of facial topiary. Of course, one of the other elements of the Russian stereotype is a reverence for the (in)glorious Communist regime, ably demonstrated by Biff in this loss quote uttered after taking a beating from Haggar:

I hereby insist that "By Lenin!" becomes the new standard exclamation of surprise. That's why you don't tussle with the Mayor, son!

Rasputin, World Heroes

A personal favourite, Rasputin is the only person on this list to be based on a real-life, almost-unkillable, faux-psychic pervert. The World Heroes version differs somewhat from the real Rasputin by replacing his belief that "hey you guys, sexual sin ceases to be a sin if we all do it at the same time!" with a more generic "I love everybody" approach which was probably more palatable to a wider audience (or not: I know what a bunch of weirdos you are out there). His moves mostly revolve around creating giant hands and feet out of psychic energy, including making huge feet so that he can, you guessed it, Cossack dance you to death. Perfect! He also has a bizarre Marilyn Monroe win pose:

As creepy in sprite form as the real Rasputin no doubt was. And look, I made it through the whole thing without once referring to him as "Russia's greatest love machine". Fantastic!

So there you go, some of the many proud, noble and often liquored-up and violent Russians who have graced our consoles over the years. See you next time when some other undeserving nation is attacked using the rending claws of "facts" that aren't even true!



Three things I love in this world of ours are Konami shoot-em-ups, arcade beat-em-ups and punching things right in the eye. I mean right in their squishy eyeballs. So, a game where all three of these things are combined would be excellent, right? Well, let's find out in Konami's 1993 arcade beat-em-up Monster Maulers!

Like Violence Fight and Crime Fighters, Monster Maulers is one of those games where the title pretty much sums everything up. There are monsters, and you must maul them. Maul them good, for (as the game tells you) freedom and justice. Just why are there monsters everywhere that need a good mauling is explained in the rather wonderful intro sequence:

As you can see from the video, the whole thing is played out as if it were an anime or a super sentai show like Power Rangers; indeed, the game's Japanese title is Kyukyoku Sentai Dadandarn, which translates as something like "Ultimate Squadron Dadandarn". They even get their own goofy yet hot-blooded theme song, and that means Monster Maulers is off to a damn fne start. The basic plot is that a goup of villains fires six monsters down to Earth from their bitchin'-cool skull-based spaceship, and the Monster Maulers have to defeat them. The villains seemed to have been... inspired, shall we say, by Yatterman villains Doronjo, Boyacky and Tonzura.

You might recognise Doronjo from Tatsunoko vs Capcom:

They even have the same skull motif. Nice one, Konami. The Monster Maulers themselves, while posing less risk of inciting a copyright-infringement lawsuit, are still a pretty odd bunch.

In the middle we have Kotetsu, a Japanese fellow who has apparently "combined various Oriental martial arts to become a killing machine". I have no idea what's going on with his outfit. He's not, as I first thought, holding an American football (which might explain some of the random bits of armour he's wearing) but a gourd full of what I can only imagine was enough booze to make him thing that the "loincloth and corset" outfit was a good look. Kotetsu is the all-round character, with a fireball that can be fired at three different angles and a Psycho-Crusher-type deal that comes in very useful. Overall, he's probably your best choice for mauling monsters.
On the left is Eagle, an American pro wrestler whose body is described as "perfect". Well. Of the three characters, he's arguably the one with the best dress sense, but that really isn't saying much. However, he does perform the famous Hulk Hogan pose in his introduction, which means he's alright by me. Also, he has a Blanka-style rolling cannoball attack.
Finally there's Anne, a British girl who is defined mainly by two things: one, she appear to be wearing a pair of red knickers on her head and two, she has a rather peculiar fighting stance:

She scuttles along sideways like that, showing what I believe is her mastery of Chafing Leotard Style Kung Fu. Yowzer. She's got an air fireball, and she can triangle jump off walls, which can be very useful for dodging her opponents, but overall she just doesn't seem strong enough.
Well, that's our heroes introduced. All I can say is it's a good job the universe they inhabit has need of a super-squad devoted to fighting monsters, because I can't really see where they'd get a job otherwise looking like that. But who will they be fighting? Well, let's look at the monsters!

You get to choose your first opponent, so I went for the Dragon. The gameplay is most like a standard Street Fighter style beat-em-up: you can move left and right but not up and down, and you have three attack buttons for light, medium and heavy attacks. Special moves are pulled off in the same way as Street Fighter, too; literally the same, in the case of Kotetsu's fireballs.
I knew the game was off to a good start with the intro, but it got even better when the first attack I made was to jump onto the Dragon's head, grab him and repeatedly headbutt him, and that felt pretty good. The Dragon is the first of several cameos from Konami's Gradius series, in this case being based on the Intruder enemy from Gradius II and Salamander. He's not just a red Dragon though, oh no; he can change into at least two other colours (white and blue), changing his attacks from fire to ice as he does so. Also, he can block attacks with his ear-flaps, which is downright adorable. Kotetsu's upwards fireballs are a real help here, and it's not long before the Dragon is defeated and it's on to the next opponent.

Fungus here is a gloopy, gloppy slime man with gills for eyes. Gills for eyes creep me out, man. Imagine if you had lungs where your eyes should be. He's got a great stage, though; check out that giant piranha / coelacanth thing in the background. He's vomiting up a stream of water while he's underwater! That's amazing, and it makes me wish he was my opponent instead of the slightly dull Fungus.

Next up is Diablo, a Chinese style demon who has copied Kotetsu's loincloth-and-anklewarmers look. He summons a giant pagoda, which is pretty cool, and he fights a lot like Blanka, which is also pretty cool. He's got the same somersaulting hard kick, and he can also turn himself into a Tasmanian Devil-style tornado. I tried offering him a nice, tall glass of OJ, but he wasn't having any of it. When you defeat him, he is rather gruesomely pecked apart by a flock of crows.

At the start of the next stage, your are confronted by a large, man-eating plant called Spider Wort, who summons a stream of little reptillian monsters who look like a nightmarish version of Pac-Man. Once he's dealt with, it's on to the star of the show; the Moai.

You might well recognise this Easter Islander, as he is something of a staple of the Gradius series, appearing as a normal enemy and a boss. He's even branched out into the Parodius and Castlevania games, but in this incarnation he's that bit more impressive because he has a body. I absolutely love his status picture next to his health bar, which has captured an expression of such wearied disdain that it makes you wonder how many other superheroes he's defeated in the past. Maybe he thought fighting one person would be easier that battling a laser-armed spaceship, but he was sadly mistaken and soon he goes down.

Centaur is, well, a centaur. A bright red centaur, no less,and he fights exactly as you would expect a horse to fight, with lots of flailing legs and whinnying. He's even got a mask that you can knock off! For some reason, you fight him in Iraq. Maybe he counts as a weapon of mass destruction. Looking at these bosses, it makes you wonder where the villains got them from in the first place. Was there a monster jumble sale? Perhaps is was some supervillain equivalent of one of those "Lucky Bags" that were always so disappointing as a child. I wouldn't have been disappointed if I'd got an evil centaur in my Lucky Bag, mind you.

On to the final monster, and they've saved the best 'til last.

First up, you must defeat the Serpent, a hideous biological hybrid of various organs who can shoot mutant sperm-tadpoles at you through holes in his sides, making him a pretty grim boss to fight if you suffer from trypophobia. He's not much of a challenge, though, and soon you reach the main event:

Brainy is my favourite boss by a long way, which really is an achievement in a game where you can also fight an Easter Island statue (sorry Moai, you're just not this cool). Why is he so great? BECAUSE HE'S A FLOATING BRAIN WITH ONE BULGING EYEBALL. I shouldn't really need to spell it out for you. If what wasn't enough, his arms are made of eyeballs. As I mentioned at the start of this article, punching eyeballs is one of this worlds great pleasures, so Brainy is assured a spot at the head of the table at the Association of Cool Monsters Annual Fundraising Dinner (they're raising funds for millions of punch-proof contact lenses). Not only that, but he's got a couple of other things going for him; one is that he's based on the Salamander boss Brain Golem. The other is that his stage music is a remix of "Poison of Snake", also from Salamander / Gradius, heard here as the version from Gradius V:

Sadly, Brainy must be destroyed. But of course that's not the end of the game, and our heroes fly up to the villains' ship for a final showdown.

Sadly, the game loses its way a little here. There are a few short side-scrolling sections in which you are attacked on all sides by various robots, and you also have to defeat the robots of the three villians. Now, I love robots, but after the likes of Brainy and Moai, they're just not as interesting, particularly when they're your final opponents.

The first villain (the skinny one) appears in this hot-pink ED-209 clone called Ducker, based on the Gradius enemy of the same name. Most of his moves revolve around kicking and flamethrowing, and I defeated him in much the same way as Dragon; I jumped up, grabbed him and headbutted him into submission, an act made extra-satisfying by the fact that it was accompanied by a clanging sound effect of the kind you might expect to hear when a man bashes his skull against a big metal robot.

After that is Robo-Ape, piloted by the fat villain. He's a robot gorilla, so I think you know what to expect. That said, his best move is when Robo-Ape picks you up, the hatch opens and the villain punches you in the mouth. What was the point of the giant gorilla-bot, then?!

Finally, the Doronjo-type lady appears in the Cosmic Tank, a floating pink chair with drill-arms that looks nothing ike a tank. I was hoping for something a little more grand and dramatic from the final battle, so the Cosmic Tank is rather a let-down. With a final mighty effort, Doronjo is defeated and the Earth is safe once more. Huzzah!

So, that's Monster Maulers, living up to its name, although perhaps they should include (Also Robots) at the end. It's a damn fun, if very short, blast of beat-em-up action that has a lot going for it: The controls are good, the sprites are excellent (and GIGANTIC) and the music is some of the best I've heard recently. Also, if you're a Gradius fan, then it's definitely worth a playthrough to see all the references, and to kick a Moai in his big granite face. It's just a shame that the last stage is such a letdown. Overall, though, Monster Maulers is worth a credit or two of anyone's time.

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