Saturday, 16 June 2012

Exploring the Sharp X68000 - Part 2

Crikey, things have been pretty busy here in RKS Land of late - regular readers may have noticed that the number of posts here has slowed down somewhat. I blame work for making me all stressed and not in the right mood to delve into the world of retro games as often!

One victim of this whole thing has been my X68000 feature, the first part of which was all the way back in March now, which looked at the legendary ability of Sharp's imposing system to cope with conversions of arcade games of the day. It turned out to be more than adept at this, as was already widely known of course, but it's always nice to see for yourself!

Something the X68k is less celebrated for, however, is the quality (or indeed the existence at all) of games which are exclusive to the system, or at least found on very few other formats. Having once again sought the advice of jolly helpful Retro Gamer forum buddy, Oli, I find myself armed with the names of some such titles. Here are the results:

Aquales (1991)

Many X68k games are a mystery to me (titles exclusive to the format, at least) but I was sure I knew at least something about this one. Of course, it turned out I was wrong, but what I discovered was certainly no disappointment! Aquales, you see, places you in command of one of those big mecha things the Japanese love so much. It's not the meanest-looking one of all-time but it's pretty agile as it can shoot a variety of weapons with one arm while the other is equipped with a grapple which can be used to swing around the multi-tiered stages which look gorgeous for the most part - filled with huge sprites, super-parallax scrolling, and all manner of special effects. The music is also fantastic which makes exploring the large, superbly-designed stages a pleasure in spite of a slightly inconsistent difficulty level.

Reinforcer (1990)

My first impressions of Reinforcer weren't great. It has a fairly long and, as far as I could tell, unskippable intro sequence which featured lots of Japanese text, as did the start of the game itself which by now I assumed would be a largely unplayable adventure game. Just about the only English text is found on the title screen where Zainsoft proudly proclaim their game to be a 'Steam Punk Adventure'. Luckily it turned out to be an overhead run 'n' gunner somewhat akin to Sega's Crack Down and therefore not reliant on knowledge of kanji! It's quite a tricky game with numerous and aggressive enemies but the graphics and sound are pretty good (especially the gun sounds and loud explosions) and the maze-like stages are good fun to explore. The player character comes equipped with some decent, not to mention satisfying weapons as well, which certainly doesn't hurt!

Silkroad - Legend of Gero (1993)

Another surprise! The name immediately made me picture some sort of combat game set in the feudal Far-East or something but it's actually a cutesy platformer which, as regular readers of Red Parsley will know, I'm very keen on! This one seemingly charges you, a small purple-haired girl, with collecting all the fruits on each stage which requires lots of climbing, dropping (although not too far!), and precise jumping. The stages aren't single-screen ones but most aren't much bigger. The graphics are very colourful but probably don't push the X68k in any other way but the happy music is appealing, as is the simple hopping-around-collecting-stuff gameplay. A very enjoyable and relaxing one, this, which I'll definitely be returning to.

Space Landing S-Type Mission 2 (1989)

Despite the 'Mission 2' in its title, this is my first knowledge of anything Space Landing S-Type-related and subsequent research reveals nothing of a 'Mission 1', but sequel or not, it's a game that was quickly and enthusiastically recommended to me by friend, Steve Perry, after 'Part One' of my X68k feature. I don't know why but that made me expect some extravagant, flashy Metroid-esque title, so I was a little surprised to find a rather basic, simple game more reminiscent of Gravitar and Thrust and things of that nature. That doesn't make it bad of course, but it does make it quite a tricky game - I've never been very good at these super-precise 'player vs gravity' games and this one seemingly does little that others haven't done just as well before. Your job here is to rescue people from several little domes on each stage and, despite the lack or originality, it's a very addictive job as well, I have to say. The graphics have an odd appeal too but the 'music' is rather less pleasant. Nothing special but it's hard to put down!

Zugya (1996)

Last but not least is a game I couldn't even get working to start with but I stuck at it, partly because it must've been one of the last games released for the system and therefore surely awesome?! Perseverance soon paid dividends and I was able to see for myself and it's... certainly interesting. It's hard to guess much about it from the title but Zugya is actually an overhead-viewed multi-directional shooter. The small player ship is armed with a pretty mean rapid-fire cannon but moving it around was extremely jerky - so much so that I initially thought it must be a mouse-controlled game or something. It turned out not to be but it is rather good, once its unusual controls have been adjusted to, obviously. The object is to simply clear each stage of enemy vessels within the time-limit and there are lots of stages. All of them have the same background but luckily it's a good one with nice colourful nebulae and sparkly stars and stuff and the music is great as well. An unusual one but well worth putting some time into.

Verdict:
There's still a surprising amount of Western gamers that don't know anything about the X68000 - I suppose it's understandable considering it never officially left its homeland - but even a vast majority of those who do know about it don't actually own one and probably haven't even seen one in real life either. It has earned quite a reputation for itself over the years though, among gamers who know about it, obviously.

Much of the praise it garners is with regards to its arcade conversions which are admittedly superb for the most part and have frequently seen the system compared to the equally conversion-tastic MegaDrive with many calling it superior. Regular Red Parsley readers will know that Sega's 16-bit wonder is precious to me so I was especially eager to see if the X68k really was an MD-killer, and my conclusion there is that... they're about equal! I'd say that the MD has consistently larger and better sprites, and possibly slightly more detailed graphics generally too, but the X68k definitely seem to have the edge with special effects - many games I've tried feature loads of parallax scrolling, transparencies, and things of that nature, and it also has many times more colours to choose from, both total pallette and those available on-screen at once as well. Many games feature sampled speech too which is much clearer than that on the MD.

As everyone knows though, any system is only as good as its software, and it's here the X68k pleasantly surprised me. Like many Western gamers, I've always been under the impression that it was little more than a big, fancy conversion-monster but, as I've discovered here, it actually has a more than decent selection of original titles as well which just goes to show, once again, how fortunate Japanese gamers were in the late 80's and early 90's - what a choice of systems and games!

It's not too late though - the X68k is quite blatantly a fantastic system which is still well worth seeking out 'in the flesh', so to speak. It's not a cheap system to buy now though, unfortunately - both the machine itself and most of the games cost a pretty penny (unless you live in Japan, probably). So, the question anyone who's looking into entering the world of X68k gaming needs to ask is: does the splendidness justify the cost? Since the games come on magnetic disks, there's always the risk of corruptions, but most X68k's have hard-drives so you may only need the games to work once! Besides that, it's worth buying for hardcore gamers for the prestige alone - the X68k rivals the Neo Geo in that regard, so if you're looking for the ultimate conversions of many games by Capcom, Konami, Taito, and other arcade companies of the days as well as a few awesome games unavailable elsewhere, the mighty X68000 is a must.

Special Note: A big thanks, once again, to the ever-helpful Oli Lar of Retro Gamer forum for his help with X68k emulation and game recommendations! Thanks also to Steve Perry for his comments and recommendation :)

Exploring the X68000 - Part One

2 comments:

  1. I wont be buying this due to costs, but look forward to experiencing on emu... "one day"... :p

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  2. Yeah, it's a fab system buddy but it's not that easy to emulate. Easier than the Engine CD-ROM, though, which I was messing around with today... :|

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