16/12/2017

MUNCH MOBILE (ARCADE)

SNK are a developer with a long and star-studded history, but here’s a game from them that you might never have heard of: it’s the 1983 grab-em-up Unch Obile!


Kind of a weird name for a game, honestly. Doesn’t tell you much about what gameplay you can expect, and it sounds a bit like the name of a third-tier Star Wars character. You know the one, the guy who appears for two seconds in a montage of pilots during the big space battle but still gets an action figure. Oh, wait, I’m receiving word that the game isn’t actually called Unch Obile.


Oh, Munch Mobile. That makes much more sense. Okay, not much more sense. Munch Mobile’s still a weird title unless you’re brainstorming names for your new food truck, but at least it’s made of real words. The missing letters were dragged onto the title screen by this car that looks like Lightning McQueen’s foetus. If that sentence has caused you to start wondering exactly how the inhabitants of the Cars universe reproduce, then I’m terribly sorry.


Get used to seeing that car, because that’s what you’ll be controlling for the duration of Munch Mobile. If you’re anything like me it won’t be a long duration, but I admit that I’m not the most patient person in the world.
Okay, so now you’re on the road, and the road is scrolling forward. It’s your job to get the Munch Mobile from one end of the highway to the other by steering it left, right, backwards and forwards, avoiding obstacles and using its stretchy arms and disturbingly human hands to grab the snacks that line the road.


That’s right, car arms. The long arm of the car. The gummy, grabby arms that all cars have. Munch Mobile’s cabinet comes with two joysticks: one for controlling the car and the other for extending your arms to the left or right. You can’t reach to both sides at once, implying that the Munch Mobile only has a single arm with a hand on each end, and the purpose of stretching your arms is to grab the items as you drive past them.


Mostly this means collecting fruit. Why does a car need to eat fruit? So it doesn’t get turbo-scurvy, of course. Or maybe it’s that in the early eighties fruit was just what you collected to get points in arcade games. There are also bags of cash that you can collect for even more points, but their real purpose is to teach a lesson about the deleterious effects of greed. That was the impression I got after repeatedly trying to grab them only for a passing bush or tree to hurt Munch Mobile’s delicate hands – and if your hand does collide with the foliage, your hand becomes unusable for a few seconds. Merely surviving the hellish gauntlet that is Munch Mobile’s daily commute is hard enough, so I found it was generally best to ignore the moneybags because you’re going to need your hands at a moment’s notice.


You need your hands free to grab the petrol cans, mainly. If the Munch Mobile runs out of fuel you lose a life, so grabbing extra gas has to be your top priority if you want to make it any further than the first stage. The Munch Mobile drinks the petrol for sustenance, gets extra vitamins from the fruit it eats and collects the cash to spend on, I dunno, car insurance. Makes sense to me.
Grab and go, that’s the name of the game here. The grabbing takes a bit of getting used to, actually – you’d think that the Munch Mobile would grab onto the fruit or whatever when its hand touches the item, but instead it only catches hold when you start pulling your hand back towards the car, so there’s an element of timing to the gameplay. If this is making Munch Mobile sound like an arcade conversion of hook-a-duck then congratulations, you figured it out.


You can also grab these leaping fish. I assume you can, anyway. I never managed to grab them, so I didn’t get to see the Munch Mobile shove the still-living fish into whatever part of its chassis serves as a mouth.


Aside from the grabbing, Munch Mobile’s gameplay is about driving. Sadly, the driving is terrible. The big issue is the narrowness of the roads, because despite chomping down all this healthy fruit the Munch Mobile is a sickly, malformed creature that exists as a blasphemous mockery of life and as such will explode if it makes even the slightest contact with the edge of the road. This makes avoiding things like these oncoming police cars rather difficult. Not because it’s hard to tell where the other cars are coming from – they’re either going to be on the left or the right side of the road – but because there’s barely room for two cars to pass side-by-side and it’s extremely easy to nudge the joystick a hair too much. You brush up against the grass, the Munch Mobile explodes, try again.


I think I’m just about getting the hang of it now, though. I’ve made my way through the tunnels that I think are supposed to be hollow logs but look more like bones with the marrow scooped out, I’ve avoided the rocks in the roads and I’m speeding my way towards home.


Ah, there’s the ol’ homestead now. Easy does it, Munch Mobile, we’re almost there. Slow down, Munch Mobile. Slow down. Oh god, no, hit the brakes, Munch Mobile you’re gonna-


Munch Mobile ploughs through the living room wall, killing a family of three and severely injuring itself in the process. It uses its rainbow arms to reach for the telephone, planning to call for help, but the roads leading to the house are so narrow and clogged with rocks that the emergency services cannot reach the Munch Mobile in time and it slowly bleeds to death. “If only I’d managed to grab one of those fish,” thinks the Munch Mobile in its final moments, “I could have found some peace in death.”


Turns out you’re supposed to guide Munch Mobile into the garage. This makes a happy couple appear, a couple so deeply in love that they colour-coordinate their outfits and, erm, have the same face. Oh god, are they related? That’d explain why they live in an isolated cabin out in the woods.
This marks the end of the stage, so it’s on to the next stage because the Munch Mobile can’t sit still - it’s always got to be out there, grabbing at fruit. I think we’re supposed to assume that we’re actually controlling one of the lovestruck couple and each stage is them commuting home from work in their grabfabulous snacktacular wackywheels munchmobile. Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but with more scope for accidentally clotheslining a shrub.


Munch Mobile doesn’t get much more interesting as it goes on. More frustrating? Sure, mostly because fuel management gets extremely strict from stage two onwards, and if you fail to collect a single roadside jerrycan then tough, you’ll run out of fuel and there’s nothing you can do about it.


And so it goes. New stages have a very thin trickle of new obstacles like these traffic-heavy crossroads until around stage six, at which point I really felt like I’d seen everything Munch Mobile has to offer. I might be wrong. It might open up a bit later, or give the Munch Mobile a laser death-cannon, or even have a proper ending. Unlikely, I know – especially that last one – but even if I wanted to play any further I couldn’t because Munch Mobile is too bloody hard. It might look like the fever dream of an overworked Brio manufacturer, but Munch Mobile’s unforgiving collision detection and stringent fuel requirements meant it was a real struggle for me to get beyond the fourth stage or so.


Things get a little easier when you realise that you only need to grab the petrol canisters. Everything else is optional unless you’re desperate to get on the high score table, and trying to drive and grab on the later stages results in a pat-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach feeling. That’s not necessarily a bad way to design gameplay: having to juggle two different types of movement can make for a fun experience… just not in Munch Mobile, where the slightest lapse in concentration means you’re likely to clip a wall and have to start again.


This is the absolute worst section when it comes to the driving. It looks simple enough, but because Munch Mobile’s horizontal movement is so slow you have to get the exact positioning and timing of your right-to-left movement correct. Start a fraction too early and the back of your car will touch the bottom corner and you’ll explode, a second too late and you won’t make it all the way across. It’s an absolute pain in the arse, that’s what it is, and it crops up in every stage after the first one. Well, you wouldn’t put something this horrible in the first stage, would you?


Munch Mobile’s approach to stage design is a bit weird, honestly. Most of the layouts seem to be repeated over and over, with the odd new section added in with each new stage. It gets very hard to tell them apart after a while, and has the effect of making the game very boring very quickly. Once you’ve gone through the extremely frustrating “nip into a lay-by to avoid the oncoming fire engines on this single-lane road” area once,  you really won’t want to do it again but tough, it’s part of every stage now. Munch Mobile’s stage design is a katamari of awkward, overly difficult yet completely unrewarding gameplay chunks, haphazardly bundled together in a way that can’t be glossed over by the cutesy graphics.


And it is pretty cute. It’s got some nice touches, at least: Munch Mobile’s big googly eyes move around to look at whatever it’s grabbing, and they get all droopy and sleepy when it’s running low on fuel. That’s nice. You can also get extra points after you’ve eaten the fruit you’ve grabbed by dropping the leftovers into one of the rubbish bins you drive past. That’s fun, and a good way to teach children that they shouldn’t drop litter lest a living car reaches out from the shadows and throttles them with its rainbow arms. “Beep beep,” whispers the Munch Mobile. “Beep beep.”


By the time I reached the sections where you can’t see where the bloody hell you’re supposed to be driving because the screen is covered by a close-up of used toilet paper, I decided I’d had enough of Munch Mobile. This is supposed to be the holiday season, a time of joy and celebration, and I’m wasting it playing this crap. I could be wasting it by playing slightly more entertaining crap! Munch Mobile might be interesting purely as a little-known game by SNK – and hey, if they want to add the Munch Mobile as a playable character in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum 2, I’d be fine with that – but as a gameplay experience I’d have had more fun with one of those Tomy road racer steering wheel toys. That’s hardly surprising, though. Those things ruled.

08/12/2017

CRAZY BURGER (GAME BOY)

I won’t lie to you, there’s a very strong chance that I decided to write about today’s game because I was hungry while I was scrolling through the list of possible candidates. Mind you, that’s no less scientific than how I usually decide what to cover next. Here it is, then: Sachen’s 1991 Game Boy yo-yo-diet-em-up Crazy Burger!


At first glance, this burger does not seem to have earned the “crazy” moniker. It’s got buns, it’s got fillings, and while there is a small flag sticking out of it that makes this burger dangerous to eat near a golf course, it’s not like the burger is so crazy that it has cybernetic implants or is trying to convince you that the moon landings were faked. Then you look a big closer and you realise the burger is filled with what look like fat, white maggots. Well, guess I’m not hungry any more.


Bang, here’s the gameplay. Are you excited? You probably shouldn’t be, because this is an unlicensed Game Boy game from notorious garbage merchant Sachen, creators of such titles as Hell Fighter and Silent Assault. My hope is that the obvious simplicity of Crazy Burger, which seems to be a Pac-Man-esque maze chase, will prevent it from being too awful.


The basics, then: you play as the twig-limbed chap in the centre of the screenshot above. I rather like his simplistic design, you know. The reason for our hero’s very basic form will be revealed soon enough, but for now let’s figure out what’s going on. You can walk around, moving through the narrow corridors… and that’s where I got stuck. There are no obvious exits, no switches to flip, and I spent an embarrassingly long time just not getting it until I finally caved and went to look up what I was supposed to be doing.


Okay, now I’ve got it. Each stage contains a number of boxes. You have to collect all the boxes and then get rid of them by throwing them into the fire-pit pictured above. At the most basic level, this is all you do in Crazy Burger – you burn trash, presumably without a permit, amidst a labyrinth made from chairs, tables and small sections of brick wall with eggs perched delicately atop them. Forget the eggs, the eggs aren’t important. Focus on gathering the boxes, which is easier said than done: you can only carry up to three boxes at a time, and every box you’re carrying makes your character move more slowly. At first I had assumed the boxes were empty and you’re supposed to be tidying up, but having them slow you down means there must be something in them. My leading theory is that they contain damning evidence concerning our hero’s upcoming trial.
In my experience, it was best not to carry more than two boxes at once. Otherwise you become too slow to safely avoid… the food.


Oh god, there it is. While racing to collect that box at the bottom-left, our hero is trapped by a wandering soda cup and menacing french fries and man, those really sound like enemies from a Mother game. Anyway, the foods are a bit like Pac-Man’s ghosts, in that they wander around the maze trying to harm you. Unlike Pac-Man’s ghosts their movements are random, as far as I could tell, and you don’t die if you touch the food. Well, not right away.


What happens is that you start getting fat. This implies our hero ate the food, either because they can’t control their raging hunger or because the food forced itself down his throat. Neither scenario is all that pleasant to think about, but unfortunately I couldn’t avoid the food forever and now our hero is looking a little chunky. That’d be fine, but the bigger you are the slower you move, and it stacks with any boxes you’re carrying so a few poorly-chosen steps can mean that you immediately go from svelte and speedy to a lumbering lummox, dragging yourself through the stage  with agonisingly slowness. You can survive “eating” four times, gradually becoming slower and more rotund with each meal consumed, and eating a fifth morsel will cause your body to give out entirely and you’ll lose a life. When you do start packing on the pounds, my advice is this: drop any boxes you’re carrying, because you can leave them on the floor where you’re standing and come back for them later. Then make your way to the Exercise Cube.


Don’t worry, the evil foodstuffs cannot penetrate the walls of the Exercise Cube, so get in there and pump some iron. Tap the button to lift the weights, do it for long enough and our hero will shed those extra pounds and get back to a running speed that’ll allow you to collect the boxes without a seven-foot hot dog inserting itself directly into our hero’s arteries. I’m impressed our hero can even lift the weights with those noodly arms, but I suppose if his only other options are a catastrophic heart attack or a horrifying, unthinkable future where boxes remain unburned then he’ll find the strength from somewhere.


That’s about it for the gameplay. Once you’ve burned all the boxes, you move on to the next stage (or “Place,” as the game calls them) and do it all again with a different maze layout and more food to avoid.


One thing I did learn is that you have to be careful when exercising. If you mash the weightlifting button too fast, the exertion becomes too much for our hero and his heart explodes. He dies, which is bad, but if this screenshot is anything to go by he also turns into a genie, so clouds and silver linings and all that.


It turns out that making the player out of featureless shapes was a clever idea, because it’s a lot easier to turn a rectangle into a circle than it is to completely re-sprite an actual character into a series of fatter and fatter forms. I do like the character’s porkiest form, it’s pretty charming and the fact that sweat flies from its brow when it's “running” engenders a certain feeling of camaraderie.


Half the fun – okay, more like ninety percent – of Crazy Burger comes from trying to figure out what the hell the backgrounds are supposed to represent. They’re a strange mix of the obvious, like the chairs from earlier, and segments that are so abstract as to be unrecognisable. For instance, here we’ve got the fast food restaurant that the food spawns from, and that’s obviously what it’s supposed to be thanks to the famous Monochrome Arches sticking out of the top... but it’s set amidst a forest of indecipherable cylindrical lumps and I have no idea what those are supposed to be. Tree stumps? Extremely weathered litter bins? I don’t have a clue, and I don’t have time to investigate the matter because I’m being chased by a vicious boiled sweet that wants revenge for the thousands of mint humbugs I have consumed over the years. Joke’s on you, pal, my repeated trips to the dentist were penance enough.


“’Scale’? Who gives a crap about scale?! The hotel’s doors are as tall as the neighbouring bungalows where I live, are you saying I live in an incomprehensible nega-zone where the laws of physical reality hold no dominion? Look, if it bothers you that much I’ll throw in a few more walls with eggs on top, okay?”


What? The gameplay? Yeah, sure, Crazy Burger has some of that.
Oh, you wanted more information, VGJunk said to the non-existent person he’s talking to right now. Okay then. Crazy Burger’s gameplay is okay, I suppose. I didn’t hate it, although I did hate bits of it. The core concept of avoiding enemies in a maze is fine, and the gathering of boxes is also fine. The whole “eat and grow fat” part is more of a mixed bag. I do honestly like the concept of gaining and losing weight, and of having to visit the Exercise Cube. It’s a fun gimmick that you don’t see all that often (it kinda cropped up later in Data East’s Diet Go Go) and seeing your character gradually go from On The Waterfront Marlon Brando to Island of Dr. Moreau Marlon Brando is neat. There’s a surprising amount of character there, packed into something made from geometric shapes.


The weight gain is also one of Crazy Burger’s biggest failings, though, mostly because of the slowing down of your movement speed. Crazy Burger’s not exactly a fast-paced game to start with, and once you get past the early, easier stages you spend so much of your play time burdened by both boxes and girth that the slowness of your character stops being an inherent challenge of the gameplay and becomes, well, boring. It’s not much fun trying to avoid the deadly food when your character runs like me twenty minutes after my Christmas dinner, and repeatedly dragging yourself back to the Exercise Cube feels like watching a glacier getting out of bed on a Monday morning.


The killer foodstuffs themselves are another issue. Their movements are completely random, as far as I could tell. They might be slightly biased to moving towards the player, that could easily be me seeing things that aren’t there. This means that the food will often occupy the narrow corridors between you and the boxes, wandering around aimlessly and getting in your way without any means of luring them somewhere else. There is a drink bottle on each stage that acts like a Power Pellet and lets you eat the food with no weight-gain, but it doesn’t last long enough for you to clear out the stage and the food respawns anyway. Too much waiting around for a roaming chicken drumstick that may or may not decide to shift its calorific arse can bring the game to a screeching halt, and later stages especially can become tedious.


Speaking of screeching, would you be surprised to learn that every second of Crazy Burger’s gameplay is accompanied by a twenty-second loop of the same god-awful music over and over again, a brain-scrapingly painful tune composed by someone whose relationship to melody and tone could be described as “antagonistic and hateful?”
At least you don’t have to hear the music for that long even if you do decide to play through all of Crazy Burger, because there are only fifteen stages. Once they’re done, we can sit back and enjoy the rather confusing ending.


Here’s the text in full. Perhaps you can make more sense of it than I did.
For the sacrifice of great hamburger burger town finally returns to tranguil. Hamburger stores close down for lack of raw material. And now people can walk on the street fearlessly, they don’t have to worry about the attack of mad hamburgers. However, the fat are still fat. The only thing changed is that no one in burger town dares to eat fast food any more.


So… those weren’t metaphorical killer hamburgers, then? Deadly foods really were patrolling the streets and slaughtering anyone who opposed them. And I guess the boxes I was burning were full of… fast food ingredients? No wonder the food was so angry, I was essentially murdering their children. It feels like Sachen were trying to make a point about the rampant consumption of quick and easy but harmful foods, only their point was poorly thought out and doesn’t make much sense. You know, just like Sachen’s games.


It’s a little sad to be saying this, but I think Crazy Burger might be the “best” Sachen game I’ve played. It’s amazingly mediocre, split almost down the middle between its good ideas like the weight mechanic and weird setting and its bad ones, such as the music and the fact that game can get incredibly slow. For an unlicensed Game Boy title that I think might have only ever been released as part of a four-in-one multicart, though, it’s a goddamn masterpiece. Now, I’m off to find the menu for my local takeaway place and see if they can deliver me a burger the size of a small house.

06/12/2017

COMIC BOOK ARCADE FLYERS

Comic book superheroes, huh? They’re not just for kids and dorks any more! Okay, so maybe that’s a bit harsh, but superheroes are now one hundred percent mainstream, and as someone who spent a lot of their youth enjoying superhero fiction (although not necessarily comics) it’s an interesting time for the concept of costumed weirdos punching each other. There have been plenty of mis-steps – I knew Suicide Squad was going to be bad but I was definitely not prepared for just how bad – but there’s a lot of enjoyable live-action superhero stuff out there these days. It’s bizarre to me that I can be watching a superhero TV show and think to myself “oh cool, Captain Cold’s in this episode, nice,” but that’s the world we live in these days. It was all different when I was a kid, though. I didn’t have any comic book stores nearby or the financial resources to keep up with monthly series (except the Real Ghostbusters comic, thanks mum) so most of my superhero exposure came from movies, cartoons and, of course, videogames. This is all a roundabout way of saying here, let’s look at some arcade flyers from comic book videogames!

X-Men, Konami, 1992


(images from The Arcade Flyer Archive, click for bigger)

Let’s begin with a prime slab of comic book art that fuses the powerful nostalgia streams of nineties Marvel and arcade beat-em-ups with Konami’s much-loved X-Men. The game itself might not be quite as much fun to play these days as you remember, but that’s a minor consideration because hearing Magneto croak “Welcome to die!” could transform any game into a masterpiece. Just looking at this artwork means I’ll have “Here Comes the Hero” stuck in my head for hours to come. As for the artwork itself, there’s not much to say about it, honestly. It’s just a nice, large image of all your favourite X-Men characters, plus Dazzler. The most striking thing about it is that I don’t remember Wolverine wearing a huge red belt, but apparently his brown suit did indeed feature a huge red belt. Funny how memory works, huh? And what’s that belt supposed to be holding up, his skin-tight lycra suit? Wolverine’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is promote the importance of adequate lumbar support.


The Japanese flyer feature the same heroic X-Men in a different pose, overshadowed by the leering face of Magneto. The Master of Magnet looks like he’s just seen someone drop a twenty pound note and he’s about to stand on it until they walk away and then pinch it. As for the rest of the characters, they look good and dynamic, although poor Nightcrawler has to suffer the indignity of having text obscuring his face. If you’re thinking that the art looks like an animation cell, that’s probably because X-Men: The Arcade Game was famously based on the semi-failed cartoon pilot Pryde of the X-Men.


There’s also this flyer, which really gets across the grandeur of the full six-player X-Men cabinet. “Play X-Men today at an arcade near you! No excuses!” it says, and yeah, sure, unless the arcade bought the six-player cabinet and then had to close down because the floor collapsed.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy the full six-player X-Men experience - sorry, "eXperience" -  please don’t tell me, because I’d just be jealous.

Spider-Man: The Videogame, Sega, 1991


It’s your friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler, and he’s got his own arcade videogame! That’s right, Spider-Man : The Videogame, the game all about Spider-Man starring Spider-Man and three other people Spider-Man knows. Let’s face it, neither Black Cat, Sub-Mariner nor Hawkeye are in the same league as Spider-Man, are they? I’m sure they all have their fans, and I bet Black Cat has plenty of fan “art,” but Spidey’s definitely the star here. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the artwork  on this flyer look a bit old-fashioned for a game released in 1991? That’s not a complaint, it’s a classic look for the characters featured here, even if Namor’s raw sexual magnetism is making me a little uncomfortable.
There’s some interesting text down there on the bottom-right. Describing the characters as “three heroes and a heroine” seems like an unnecessary distinction, but I do like Dr. Doom being called “an incarnation of evil.” An incarnation of good common sense and benevolent leadership who is forever being slandered by the accursed Reed Richards might be more accurate, but this description is much less cumbersome.


The US flyer goes with a daft pun, which makes sense to me because there are two things I associate with Spider-Man: radioactive spider blood and bad jokes. The pun is then re-used at the end of the blurb, because if a joke was lame in the first place it can only get better with repetition. In fact, you could say there’s so much value in that pun that it’s really got legs, oh no, I’ve fallen into some kind of meta void.
Speaking of voids, I spent far too long looking at the background thinking it was some kind of abstracted Spider-Man mask before realising the magenta part is the silhouette of an arcade cabinet and the blue bits are supposed to be the trails of the swooshing screenshots. I was looking for depth where there was only ugly graphic design.

Superman: The Video Game, Taito, 1988


The Man of Steel gets a pretty boring flyer for his eponymous arcade adventure, but then I suppose Superman is so iconic that all you need to sell the idea of a Superman game is an image of Superman bursting though a paper sheet like a winning contestant on Gladiators.


The European flyer is a bit more engaging. Superman hurls a meatball into the depths of space, which at least gets a flicker from the needle of the interesting-o-meter because now I’m thinking of the phrase “intergalactic bolognese.” He also breaks apart some chains with a smile on his face. You see, he’s happy because some villain was dumb enough to attack Superman with regular metal chains and not a kryptonite-powered death machine.

Batman, Data East, 1990


After Superman, logically the next superhero to check up on is Batman, and of course he also got his own arcade game. It’s not that great, from what I remember. As you can see, it’s based on Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, which means this flyer contains little more than Michael Keaton doing a kissy face. Seriously, what is with that expression? Batman looks like he’s just seen the kid in front of him buy the last scoop of chocolate ice cream and while he’ll settle for raspberry ripple he’s not happy about it.

Batman Forever, Iguana Entertainment, 1996


The streets of Gotham City are paved with gold, plus cobblestones and fondant-coated cakes shaped like the Bat-Symbol that act as impromptu manhole covers. You know, if Gotham’s streets were paved with gold it’d explain why so many criminals are obsessed with the bloody place. As much as I like Batman, I was something of an over-analytical kid and it always bothered me that all these crimes took place in the city that’s home to the World’s Greatest Detective. Like, c’mon, man: Akron, Ohio has banks too.

Batman, Raw Thrills, 2013


Here’s a surprisingly modern Batman arcade game, a racing-combat title where you hare through the streets of Gotham – thankfully not paved in gold, because that’d play havoc with the Batmobile’s traction – and chase down some of Batman’s famous foes. I’ve seen this game in action, and the strange thing about it is that it still has the same feel as an arcade game from the late nineties / early two thousands. It’s something to do with the way the action is framed, punchy and hyper-kinetic in a manner that you don’t see in console games. Presumably it’s designed that way to grab the attention of potential customers, as though the enormous glowing Bat-Symbol wouldn’t do that on its own.
I’m especially interested in the claim that you can control “every Batmobile ever” in this game. Now, I know that’s not strictly true, but you can play as the Batmobiles from the sixties TV series and Batman: The Animated Series and frankly why would you want to drive any other Batmobiles? So, I’ll let them off.

Justice League Heroes United, Global VR, 2009


Now this one just feels like a cruel practical joke. An arcade beat-em-up starring the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and the Joker with cel-shaded graphics, supposedly co-developed by Konami? In another universe this is my favourite videogame ever, but from what I’ve seen of the version we received on this Earth Justice League Heroes United is an incredibly simplistic and remarkably ugly brawler with poor hit detection and combat that’s got as much depth as two junior school kids having a thumb war. Just looking at this flyer is disappointing me and, in the case of the Joker’s face, kinda creeping me out. I know the Joker is supposed to be creepy, but in a “sinister and unhinged” way rather than a Tippexed corpse. Throw in Wonder Woman staring at her own hands with an expression of utter bemusement, and I think we can all be glad that this one never got a home release.

Captain America and The Avengers, Data East, 1991


Ah, that’s better, back to some artwork you might actually want to look at. Well, as long as you ignore Vision’s massive hand / tiny head combo. Other than that, it’s pretty good. Captain America takes centre stage, as well he might, with all the most famous features of his design on display: his mighty shield, his red-white-and-blue suit, the two small tufts of grey hair at his temples that remind you hey, Cap fought in World War Two, he’s an old man now.
These days, it’s kinda weird to see Iron Man shuffled into the background of a superhero team-up, huh? Just bide your time, Tony. One day you’ll be Robert Downey Junior and you’ll never have to lurk behind Hawkeye again. And hey, I could have sworn the Red Skull doesn’t usually have ears. Skulls don’t have ears. Then again, skulls don’t have eyes, either, so I suppose it’s down to artistic interpretation. At least if you draw him with ears you know his Nazi hat won’t keep slipping off his head.


The American flyer for Captain America and The Avengers is… less compelling. Ha ha, “super hero foursome.” Where was I? Oh yeah, you might think Cap’s climbing out of that arcade cabinet, but take a look at the way the monitor glass is broken around his leg. There’s no way his bulging, justice-packed torso would fit through that gap, so clearly he’s just kicked a hole in the cabinet’s screen to get your attention. Now that he has your attention, he can tell you some marvel-ous facts. Go on, read that speech bubble and then admit it, the voice inside your head sounded like a kid giving a class presentation on the exports of Slovakia or something. At least those facts are believable – over on the left there’s the claim that in some arcades, Avengers is out-earning Street Fighter II at a rate of two-to-one. I must conclude those arcades did not contain a Street Fighter II cabinet.

Avengers in Galactic Storm, Data East, 1995


Captain America once more takes the starring role in Avengers in Galactic Storm, and he’s really carrying the whole thing because the other playable characters are… well, they’re down the Marvel Comics pecking order, let’s put it that way. Apart from Cap we’ve got the medieval-themed Black Knight, the element-manipulating Crystal and kinda-Thor-but-not-really Thunderstrike. Crystal has already appeared in the Inhumans TV show, and I’m sure that by 2025 Black Knight and Thunderstrike will have their own movies, movies beamed directly into the population’s brains by the now-sentient Disney-Marvel-Fox Mandatory Entertainment Droids.
Until then, we’ll have to settle for looking at these CG graphics which have not aged well at all. Early low-poly PS1-type stuff can have a lot of charm, but this is a shiny, plasticky nightmare, action figures come to life in a horror-movie version of Toy Story. Cap’s bulbous, over-inflated pectorals are dominating my focus. I can’t look away from them, and I can’t stop imagining the sounds of a clown making a balloon animal when Cap throws his shield.


The US flyer looks a little better. Not good, but better. The nineties really were the heyday of the brown leather jacket, huh? He doesn’t have one in this image but even Thunderstrike wears a brown leather jacket in the comics. I just feel sorry for the baseball pitcher that’s just out of view in the image above, because Thunderstrike has clearly smashed a home run outta the park.

Spawn: In The Demon’s Hand, Capcom, 1999


Oh hey, it’s Spawn! I’d kinda forgotten Spawn was a thing, but here he is in all his gothic, flappy-capes, not-nearly-as-cool-as-Link-Soul-Calibur-guest-character glory. The flyer is a big ol’ picture of Spawn himself, and there’s not much you can say about that. However, the tagline “access the cool and dark mysterious world of SPAWN” is rather glorious, don’t you think? You can access this world, but you are a mere visitor, child: you can never be as cool and dark mysterious as Spawn, emissary of hell and compulsive spike polisher.”


Also, Spawn will strike here. Apparently. Not a believer in the element of surprise, that Spawn.

X-Men: Children of the Atom, Capcom, 1994


To finish, let’s have some palette cleansers with the flyers for Capcom’s Marvel fighting games. I’m not going to cover the “versus Capcom” crossovers in an effort to keep this article comic-book centric, but Children of the Atom is X-Men all the way down and so here it is. Wolverine’s grimacing harder than any Canadian has ever grimaced before, and as someone who was recently told that they grind their teeth in their sleep it’s making me uncomfortable thinking about what this is doing to his teeth. I know Wolverine’s healing factor means he can grow them back, but still, tooth trauma isn’t fun to think about. Luckily Storm’s nearby, and she can calm Wolverine down by electrocuting his hand.
Relatedly, I’m sure I had a Marvel trading card of some sort with this very artwork on it. In this case, I would be happy for the comments to tell me if that was a real thing or something my brain has made up to distract me from the mental image of Wolverine’s teeth shattering under the pressure of his relentless fury.


The Japanese flyer is cool. I have nothing much to add, it just looks really good. Classic X-Men artwork, a strong design, Magneto looking much more menacing than he did on Konami’s X-Men flyer. Good work all around.

Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom, 1995


Finally for today, it’s Marvel Super Heroes and in what has been a running theme, the American flyer is kinda okay but not nearly as interesting as its Japanese counterpart. You’ve got some famous heroes, the game’s title, what more do you really need? Sure, the lighting on Psylocke makes her look very yellow and thus easily mistaken for some kind of wasp monster, especially with her leg(?) looking like a stinger, but aside from that? Perfectly acceptable.


This flyer, though? Get it printed out and hang it on your wall. That way you can live your life under the baleful gaze of Shuma-Gorath, and who wouldn’t want that?

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