Quick, off the top of your head: what's the coolest superpower? Flight? Super-strength? Some kind of skin condition that renders you immune to paper cuts? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The correct answer is a keen sense of justice and complete mastery over the raw power of noodles. Don't take my word for it, though: consider the evidence put forward by Den'z's 1994 SNES beat-em-up UFO Kamen Yakisoban: Kettler no Kuroi Inbou.

That's UFO Mask Yakisoban: Kettler's Dark Conspiracy in English. I think. Perhaps it'll make more sense once we meet our hero, the fearless and lycra-clad Yakisoban!

Hailing from the Noodle Planet, Yakisoban is a steely-eyed hero with a heart full of valour and a packet of instant noodles on his head. Yakisoban is preparing to marry his sweetheart when tragedy strikes!

His fiancée is abducted by the evil Kettler! If you were wondering, Kettler is the one with the kettle on his head. He looks like the Mad Hatter, except more mad. Steaming mad, you could say. Yakisoban cannot let this injustice go unpunished, so he sets off for Earth to free his lady love and put paid to Kettler's malignant ambitions.

His spaceship / car is also a packet of noodles. It's powered by soy sauce, which helps to keep fuel costs down.
Alright, so you might be a little confused about what's going on. "Surely," I hear you say, "they didn't set out to make an action-packed fighting game and decided that the best hero for the job would be a guy with the power of noodles?" And you'd be right, of course they didn't. That'd be silly. Yakisoban was actually spawned by the unfathomable forces of Japanese advertising.

He was created in the mid-Nineties to promote Nissin's UFO brand of instant noodles through tokusatsu-style antics, always foiling the diabolical Kettler with his noodle-themed powers. Imagine if the Power Rangers gained their powers by having scalding water poured into their helmets rather than something as boring as shouting the name of a dinosaur.

UFO Kamen Yakisoban is an advertisement for Nissin noodles. An advert in the form of a side-scrolling beat-em-up, sure, but an advert is what it is and if the idea of product placement sickens you to your very core then you should probably stop reading now, and maybe try to calm down a little. Have a relaxing hot bath or something. Like how you might boil some noodles to satisfy your oh no it's taken hold of me already.

The game begins in an amusement park, a location that I assume Yakisoban chose on purpose as it's one of the few Earthbound environments where he's not going to stick out like a sore thumb. Sharp-suited goons appear to hassle you - I suppose they're Kettler's troops, but they could equally just be the park's security guards trying to evict you for dressing as an outside superhero. Try getting into Disney World dressed as Bugs Bunny, see how far you get. I managed to reach the Epcot Center before their tranquilizer darts took effect.

Yakisoban has a few tricks up his sleeve. Aside from the usual basic combo activated by pressing the punch button repeatedly and the ever-present jumping kick, double-tapping a direction will cause Yakisoban to roll around, away from danger or into the fray. Pressing attack while you're rolling results in a devastating flying-kick.

So devastating you can kick a man so hard in the throat that his eyes pop right out of his head. Kettler doesn't stand a chance!
Unlike most beat-em-ups of this style Yakisoban doesn't have a special move, activated by pressing jump and attack, which clobbers the surrounding enemies at the expense of a portion of his own health bar.

Instead, holding the attack button down allows you to charge up Yakisoban's secret attack: the Sauce Beam. Releasing the button lets you fire a damaging spray of dark, salty justice ahead of you. Yup, you've got a pair of soy sauce guns. Powerful, invincible soy sauce cannons, even, blasting the enemies aside with their awesome power while also enhancing their flavour. Yakisoban even shouts "SAUCE BEAMU!" whenever you use them. It's pretty great.

Hopefully you'll have a good idea of Yakisoban's skills by now, because soon enough the first boss strides into view. Skates into view, rather. He slides around a lot; a difficult task, given that he's wearing iron clogs, but he pulls it off well. Oh, and his head is some sort of frying plate and he throws what looks like pancakes at you. You haven't lived until you've unleashed a flying kick that meets a deadly pancake in mid-air, nullifying the attack with your foot.
The first boss isn't much of a challenge - simply avoid his attacks, whack him when he stands still and remember that he's invincible for a while once you've hurt him - and soon Yakisoban will be one stage closer to rescuing his fiancée.

Although not before you've taken care of the boss in a more permanent fashion by using Yakisoban's disturbing-looking noodley powers. I've spent a lot of time on the internet; I know what normally happens when anything tentacle-like ensnares someone in Japanese media. I think my sense of discomfort is justified.

Stage two takes place in a restaurant, and the absurdity of Yakisoban's appearance is made apparent by the expressions of the diners in the background. Just look at their faces: they're not used to having their lunches interrupted by a fight between a space-born noodle warrior and pie-throwing chefs with... kettles on their feet? That's a harsh punishment. Fail Kettler once, and you must have your feet permanently immersed in boiling water. Nobody fails Kettler a second time.

The restaurant's actual chefs - the ones with un-boiled feet and trousers that are white and not boiling-plasma pink - seem much less surprised to see Yakisoban. Well, chefs are notoriously volatile. They must see this kind of thing all the time, although probably with less noodle-themed headgear. You'd think a hat of that size and shape would seriously hamper Yakisoban's movement and balance, but he bears his burden well.
This is a good place to mention the graphics. They're hardly in the uppermost tier of the SNES' capabilities, but they do have a lot of charm. UFO Kamen Yakisoban is certainly a colourful game, colourful enough to make Konami's early-Nineties arcade titles look like Fallout 3, and there's generally quite a lot going on in the background, like that chef nonchalantly frying his food as a battle to decide the future of both Yakisoban's love-life and instant noodles everywhere rages through his kitchen.

And here's the boss, a fork demon made of forks. My knowledge of Japanese is hardly stellar, but I think he's called Mr. Fork. Go on, children: wave to the nice Mr. Fork, lest he spear you with his steely prongs and carry you away to his underground lair / cutlery drawer. He should team up with Gamera villain Guiron to form the ultimate table-top tag-team.
Once again, he's not too difficult to beat as long as you remember that all the bosses in this game enjoy a period of invincibility after they've been damaged, and they like to use this time to fly into you as fast as possible.

This image brought to you by the Council for the Promotion of Chopstick Use.
Next up is a construction site, and this is where some of the weirder enemies begin to appear. I mean, I can handle suited thugs and even the kettle-footed chefs were appropriate to the scenario, but what the hell are these little green things?

Not the one on the left: that's a tiny dragon in a china bowl, obviously. I mean those monocular green freaks on the right, the ones that look like the alien from The Thing found its way into a stationery cupboard. At first I thought they were walking portions of fries - because of the food theme, you see - but on closer inspection they're just too small and sharp for that. They must be either chopsticks or toothpicks...

...and these equally unsettling "ladies" are made of chopsticks, so I guess the little green fellas are toothpick holders. Back to those chopstick ladies, though: I think they're even creepier that the toothpick monsters. They look so cheerful, even when Yakisoban is kicking them in the face. Nothing should be that cheerful during a kick to the face, especially not if they have chopsticks for legs. Even that dog is spooked out by them. I can only assume that these wooden-legged abominations have been sent specifically to kill me, and they're formed from the combined anger and disgust of every waiter in every Chinese restaurant where I asked for a knife and fork.
Luckily, Yakisoban has another crime-fighting tool in his soy-drenched arsenal that shouldn't be overlooked. If you can find one laying about the stage, you too can wield the awesome power of the Unicycle of Justice!

It's a unicycle that makes you invincible, allowing to hurt bad guys by riding into them. Absurdly dramatic music plays the entire time this is happening - for the opposite effect, you'd have to watch footage from the Somme Offensive with "Spanish Flea" playing over the top. This is obviously where the true power of Yakisoban's noodle-bowl hat is revealed, as its wide shape and perfectly-distributed weight help our hero to keep his balance.
The unicycle won't last forever, (more's the pity,) and before long the stage's boss arrives to try his hand at defeating you.

His floating, disembodied hand at that! Once more, I'm left puzzled about what the hell it's supposed to be. Candy Floss? Pre-chewed bubblegum? Sentient strawberry milkshake? That last one sounds like a new Ben & Jerry's flavour - Sentient Strawberry with Reasonin' Raisins. But I digress. Lumpy here seems like more of a challenge than the previous bosses, but that might just be because the extremely unsubtle Nissin advertising that fills the center of the screen is slowly blinking, glowing, luring you in with promises of a delicious noodley warmth that the other brands just cannot match. That kind of thing will distract you from the globs that the boss is throwing at you, but with a bit of patience you'll get past his defences and land the mortal blow. But what's this?!

Yakisoban... defeated?

No, of course not. Nothing can stop the wheat flour-powered justice that courses through his veins and in an instant Yakisoban is transformed into Yakisoban Great! It's an almost entirely cosmetic change: his costume becomes more yellow, and his moves look different (although they're still the same basic attacks). For example, his post-roll flying kick is replaced with the functionally identically but strangely erotic "flying bodybuilder" pose that you can see in the picture above. It's a power that no man can resist - even that clown has surrendered himself to Yakisoban's savoury assault.

We're at another amusement park for stage four. This one has a ghost house, but such cheap tricks will not frighten a hardened intergalactic noodle warrior.

That might, though. It's certainly making me feel uneasy. The creepiest thing about the giant head with the tiny, ready-to-strangle hands is that it doesn't attack you. It just watches. Yakisoban punches his way through Kettler's troops as the sinister head looks on, and once you're out of the ghost house it's time for the boss battle.

This fight pits you against the evil Yakisoban imposter, erm, Fake Yakisoban. You can't see this on that screenshot, but he has the word USO on his chest instead of UFO, "uso" being the Japanese for "lie". It's not really a costume I can see fooling many people, but the laws governing Japanese superheroes states that they must always fight their evil doppelganger at some point. In this case, I really like the way they're fighting on the amusement park stage in front of a crowd who presumably think this is all part of the entertainment. Or maybe they know that Yakisoban is a space warrior, but they figure that they've already paid for their ticket so they might as well get their money's worth. Either way, I can see Yakisoban receiving a very lucrative offer from the park's owners in the near future. Five shows a day at 10, 12, 2, 4 and 6, his own private trailer and all the condiments he can carry - an offer that would tempt even the staunchest of superheroes!
USO Kamen might have similar moves to our hero, but he doesn't know how to use them as effectively. He also lacks access to Yakisoban's two ultra-top-secret, limited-use attacks. Holding the R button and pressing attack activates the Agedama Bomber, a powerful technique that hits all enemies on the screen in an explosion of crispy-fried batter bits. Doing the same with the L button produces the devastating Aonori Flash, paralysing the enemies with a sprinkling of seaweed powder. Yakisoban was denied entry to the Justice League due to the inordinate amount of time that the other heroes spent vacuuming up after him.

With the fake Yakisoban defeated, the final stage awaits. Our hero assaults the studios of UTV, where Kettler is participating in a TV broadcast. He's probably complaining about how dangerous theme parks have become these days.

It's not a long stage, and now that you've gotten used to Yakisoban's moves it shouldn't be much of a problem for you. This gives me a chance to talk about one of my favourite aspects of the game: the music. UFO Kamen Yakisoban is, as you can probably tell, a pastiche of the Japanese tokusatsu entertainment genre. That's the one where superheroic warriors in skintight costumes battle against guys in rubber monster suits - series such as Ultraman and Kamen Rider. UKY does a great job of sending up these hyper-dramatic sagas, and the best and most accurate way it does this is through the music. Here's stage five's theme:

If you've ever seen a tokusatsu show or a classic super-robot anime, you'll be able to tell what a great job Den'z did of recreating that signature sound. Even if this is all new to you, the music is fun and (for me, at least) extremely catchy, and it does a great job of accompanying Yakisoban's bizarre antics.

Back to our story already in progress! Having smelled the aroma of impending savoury justice, Kettler ditches his disguise and reverts to his kettle-behatted form. I think the newsreader's shocked expression is down more to the gold lapels and bow tie of Kettler's outfit than the revelation of his evilness.

Once again, I love the background here, particularly the guy in the top-right who is so scared his arms have become perfect right-angles but not so scared that he decided to leave or anything.
Kettler is hardly the most imposing villain, but his goofy appearance conceals a surprisingly tricky opponent. When he's not stabbing you with his giant fork, he can attack from range by shouting at you. Terribly rude, yes, but undeniably effective, and it can be tough to land a hit. It may be difficult but if you persevere, and if the Gods of Convenience Food are smiling upon you, then Kettler's dark conspiracy can be foiled. Well, squirting soy sauce into someone's eyes is bound to incapacitate them for a while. Then you can finish them off with the deadly noodle attack!

Kettler is defeated, Yakisoban is reunited with his lady love and they travel back to Noodle Planet for their wedding and subsequent buffet. And that's it, UFO Kamen Yakisoban is complete!
This is not a game that's going to deeply rock your world or open up a brave new horizon in the field of side-scrolling beat-em-ups. It couldn't be called a bad game, because everything about it works pretty well. The graphics are detailed, colourful and fun and the music is perfect for the mood. Yakisoban has a decent variety of moves, he controls well enough and (the occasional issue with hit detection aside) the game plays smoothly. It has its problems, of course: the main one is that it's just too short. There are only five stages, and not particularly long ones at that, and there's no real replayability value.

Personally, though? I love it. I can see why some people wouldn't - in the end, it's nothing more than a slightly above-average belt-scrolling fighter - but something about its over-the-top nature just strikes the right chord with me and I find myself grinning through every playthrough and humming along to the music long after I've put the pad down. It's just good, clean, fun. The most impressive thing is that despite it being one long advert, it never feels cynical. There's none of the forced "attitude" that was foisted upon many advertising mascots in the Nineties, there's no tacked-on and completely insincere environmental message like in Mick & Mack: Global Gladiators: it just took the dopey subject matter and ran with it, and for this I salute it.
One last thing: here's a Japanese TV commercial for the game. The noodle attack looks just as creepy in real life.

Fight, Yakisoban! For everlasting portions!



Games these days have 3D graphics all sewn up, but we shouldn't forget the early attempts by games developers to offer gameplay in a 3-dimensional space: things like early wireframe maze games, Nintendo's migraine-magnet Virtual Boy and, most successfully of all, Sega's Super-Scaler games of 1980s. You know the ones - titles like Space Harrier and OutRun that created a sense of three-dimensional movement by using scaling sprites that started off small and got bigger as you approached them, giving a sense of forward movement hitherto unmatched in videogames and only replicable at home by taping sequential drawings to the walls of a staircase and then throwing yourself down it.
While Sega were the undisputed masters of this technology, other developers also tried their hand at Super-Scaler-style games and today I'll be looking at Taito's 1989 arcade attempt Night Striker.

I can't believe the gaming industry waited until 1989 to use the name Night Striker, possibly the most eighties name for anything I've ever heard. I'm fairly certain that changing Striker to Stryker and then writing the title three times in hen's blood on the sleeve of a Duran Duran album will cause the zombified corpse of Ronald Regan to rise from his grave, so, uh, don't do that. Instead, enjoy the spine-tingling chills promised by the attract mode!


Oh no!

Yes, sir! Pushing start button now, sir!
Yes, Night Striker decided that one clichéd videogame plot simply wasn't enough and offers you both the "terrorist organization" and "kidnapped girl (oh, and her dad)" reasons for getting into your "special armored motorcar" and shooting things a lot. As always, the terrorist's goals are vague and ill-defined - no ideological statements are forthcoming, no demands for the release of political prisoners or the return of native lands are ever made. They're just... kind of a bunch of dicks. City-attacking dicks.

Even their choice of kidnapped scientist seems half-hearted. Dr. Lindvery Maska - a name Taito clearly created by picking Scrabble tiles out of a spinning tumble dryer - is an expert on lasers. I dunno, it just seems a little dull. At least the scientist in Avenging Spirit was an expert in Ghost Energy. Kidnapping a laser expert just makes me wonder if the terrorists have a lot of problems with the lenses in their CD players.

What about the game itself, though? Well, it's pretty much just Space Harrier. You fly forward and shoot at the bad guys. There's one fire button, and the joystick allows you to move freely around the screen. Unlike Space Harrier, you're not fighting in a fantasy landscape filled with bizarre alien creatures and segmented dragon bosses, you're battling through a futuristic city filled with tanks, helicopters and segmented dragon bosses.

It also takes some inspiration from OutRun, like the branching system pictured here. At the end of each stage there's a short section in a tunnel where you can choose which route to take by going left or right at the fork. Unlike OutRun, I'm not sure that taking the right-hand path increases the difficulty - it might do, but I didn't really notice. Towards the end, Night Striker gets so hectic that it's difficult to notice much of anything that isn't the enemy's constant missile attacks without your UN-sanctioned flying police car exploding into a million smouldering pieces.

Enemies love to crowd right up to you and block your view of any incoming attacks, twirling aside at the last second like some mechanical matador to reveal a plasma blast coming right at you. The gameplay techniques you will need to survive become evident very quickly: hold down the fire button and concentrate on dodging as much as possible, hoping that your barrage of energy blasts will clear a path while you dart around the screen avoiding homing missiles.
Night Striker also contains a hell of a lot of hovercrafts.

Hundred upon hundreds of hovercrafts. I'm guessing this is down to the terrorists' habit of kidnapping random scientists and forcing them to aid the terrorists in their diabolical plans regardless of said scientist's chosen field. Occasionally this works out great and they kidnap a virologist who can create them a new bio-weapon or something, but more often than not they end up with an agricultural scientist who'll help them breed a race of disease-resistant battle-sheep. At some point down the line, world-renowned hovercraft expert Dr. Aerode Slizador fell into their clutches and, well, the rest is history. As were all the terrorists' normal, non-hovering boats.

Every stage falls into one of two general gameplay styles: there are the "open" stages that are mostly filled with waves of enemies, and there are "tunnel" sections where the focus is more on avoiding the obstacles that some thoughtless clod has placed in said tunnel.

It's almost like they don't want me racing through these tunnels, intent on destroying their criminal organization. This feeling is only intensified by their decision to set a pack of cybernetically-enhanced wolves on me.

In the terrorists' most misguided abduction yet, they kidnapped respected dog breeder Suzanne Worthing of Faversham, Kent. They'd been targeting her sister Julie, a software engineer specializing in data encryption, but they were so embarrassed by their mistake that rather than admit it they kept Suzanne and put her to work building an army of robotic dogs.
I have an issue with the scale of these robo-wolves. How big are they supposed to be? Bigger than my car? That does seem to be the case, making these wolves around eight feet tall. Miss Worthing is a shoo-in for Crufts this year, let me tell you.

The branching system is a little misleading, and the promise of twenty-one unique stages is never really delivered on as many of the stages are quite similar: there are three or four "Tunnel" stages that only really vary in background colour, for instance. Night Striker is a game that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, up the arms and all the way across its back, and it'll never win any prizes for innovation, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. There are a lot of things to recommend it, starting with something that might just be personal to me.

A lot of the game takes place in whatever city the terrorists are attacking, and it's a shining neon metropolis, a cyberpunk-styled urban jungle dripping in hot pink and electric blue signage, huge tower blocks and monolithic corporate pyramids. I absolutely love this type of setting, Blade Runner seen through the filter of a Japanese arcade game, and it was the main reason I checked Night Striker out in the first place. It might not mean much to you, but for me it pretty much made the whole game worth playing on its own. I particularly like the use of VFD-style fonts throughout the game, a nice touch that makes you feel like you're piloting a VCR from the later eighties rather than a sophisticated combat vehicle.
The only problem with Taito's future-retro styling of the game is that your ship's on-board computer has all the subtlety of a kick in the knackers. You start off with five "shields" - that is, hit points - and when you drop to two shields remaining the ever-so-eager computer makes sure to point this out to you.

You're not helping! This is only making things more dangerous!


Oh, I see. I'm dead. I suppose you can write on the screen as big as you like now. You know, seeing as I'm dead and all.
Another quality component of Night Striker is the music, composed by Taito's in-house band Zuntata (although in this case I think most if it was done by Masahiko Takaki). It's mostly the kind of upbeat, semi-jazzy level themes that you'd expect from Zuntata, and my personal favourite of these is the Suburbs theme, which goes by the rather grandiloquent title of "Trance Parlant in Blue".

Every now and again, though, the soundtrack takes a strange detour into a different genre, best exemplified by the ending theme.

That sure doesn't sound like the music that should be accompanying my triumph over the terrorist forces, but there you go. Perhaps our hero is forever scarred by what he's seen and done. Perhaps we're supposed to be reminded of the human cost of this war on terror. Maybe they just thought it was a nice bit of music that didn't really have a place anywhere else on the soundtrack. All I know is that I rather like it.
Speaking of the ending, here's probably Night Striker's most interesting feature. Depending on the path you take, you can end up at one of the six final stages from P to U. Each stage sees your flying car transform into something else for the remainder of the stage. For example, if you reach stage P, then you transform into a bipedal robot.

Also, the final boss of stage P is a pair of industrial cranes. That's a little underwhelming, I'll be honest. If your ultimate super-weapon is a piece of completely-legal construction equipment then you may want to rethink you plans for global conquest. Start a building firm instead, there's more money in it.
Each final stage also gives you a different ending, meaning there are a total of six ways to end the game. Here's stage P's bit of poorly-translated congratulatory text:

"It took not so many hours" is right. Night Striker is a short game, and you can rattle off a playthrough in about twenty minutes if you know what you're doing.
Stage P is one of the less interesting ones. Let's try another one. How about stage S?

This is probably the coolest final stage, because your car turns into a motorcycle and we all know only cool dudes ride motorcycles. It's also set on a vast chequered plain filled with Buddhist temples and demonic stone heads, and at this point the game is getting dangerously close to becoming an exact copy of Space Harrier.

When you clear the stage our hero crashes his jet-bike into the enemy base, causing a huge explosion that wipes out all the terrorists forever and ever. And also presumably kills all the scientists they were holding captive. It's not all smiles and rainbows in this ending, though - there's a price the player must pay. "The player has however lost a big thing. Fare well to my machine" he says. Oh god, I hope it wasn't another sentient vehicle like the car in Mad Gear. I don't think I can bear the responsibility for another sentient car's death. Quick, let's go to a happier ending!

Stage U transforms your car into a death-dealing double-barreled laser machine, slicing through the vast navy of enemy hovercrafts with ease. You know what this ride is good for? Impressing ladies. This is handy, because stage U ends with you rescuing Dr Maska's dinghy-bound daughter.

I'm not sure what the "it was very good" is referring to here. The daughter's escape attempt? It wasn't all that great: if I hadn't happened to choose this stage, she'd still be bobbing around the ocean, encircled by hungry hovercraft. It can't be referring to the translation job, which managed the perversely impressive trick of spelling "daughter" correctly and incorrectly in the same bit of text.

A sudden volley of fireworks sets the romantic mood, and the girl and our hero settle down for some James Bond-style post credits fun. Where did those fireworks come from, anyway? Were they somehow tied to the head terrorist's vital signs, primed to explode when he flatlined? That sounds pretty cool, actually.

You've probably already figured out if you'll enjoy Night Striker, but if not, allow me to help. Have you every played Space Harrier or Afterburner, and if so, did you enjoy them? If you answered yes to both these questions then you should give Night Striker a go. It may be unoriginal, but it does what it sets out to do and it does it well. The presentation is good, with smooth graphics and a catchy soundtrack. It plays well, too, and reaches a nice level of hectic, missile-dodging action in the later levels while never becoming frustratingly hard. The sense of speed it delivers is impressive, and my only real problem with the gameplay is that projectiles can be obscured when there's a lot going on.

It's not a long game, but the branching paths do give it some replay value, and if you just want a short jolt of frenetic arcade action and you like the cyberpunk-inspired aesthetics then give Night Striker a try.

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