Fighting Run is simultaneously a game that’s a gigantic pain in the rear and also one that I kinda love. Everything about this game is just so dang cool! The aesthetics create an environment that’s both grim and silly, the concept is something that so rarely gets an entire game dedicated to it, and the mechanics leave a ton of potential for an indie developer to build upon and the foundation for a passionate competitive community to take root in. If this game was something people were aware of and if it was just a bit more polished, I seriously think it could be a proper cult hit!
Override might not be the most exceptional shoot ‘em up ever, but it’s one that does nearly everything well, and the things it doesn’t do as well were corrected for its remake, which is a privilege most games don’t get to experience. Between the PC Engine version’s approachability and the Sharp X68000 version’s added bells and whistles, there’s something here for everyone who has even a passing interest in shoot ‘em ups. Override can be safely recommended for those unfamiliar with the genre as something that’s reasonable for them to finish (I beat it on my first attempt and I’m not good at the genre!), whereas veteran players can try to go for Last Battalion's elusive second ending to get the thrills they seek.
Peke to Poko no Daruman Busters
Daruman Busters is a long, frequently agonizing experience. The game is so challenging and so unforgiving that it feels impossible to get into a groove with it. Sometimes you'll think you're improving when you happen to clear levels quickly, but inevitably, the game will knock the confidence out of you and force you to toil in a single level for what feels like forever. Some of the starting block arrangements are downright sadistic and with how the level itself is constantly getting in your way, how unpredictable the Daruman behavior is, and how hard it is to actually figure out how this game wants you to play it, I found myself increasingly exasperated with it. It was so taxing to get through that it soured my mood for an entire weekend!
Armalyte isn’t insurmountable, but it does require patience, memorization, and preparation to complete it, let alone get past its first level. For that reason, this game is one that you really want to have save states for if possible so you can practice its toughest bits. If you’re willing to persevere or do whatever it takes to survive (if you catch my drift), you’ll be rewarded with a shoot ‘em up experience that’s genuinely atmospheric and intriguing the whole way through. The world of Armalyte, even with its lack of text, tells a story that makes you want to see it through to the end just to see what the developers came up with. I could have easily turned it off during that fireball sequence for something else, but it immediately drew me in enough to make me want to get past that part and see what else it had lying in wait for me.
The Famicom had a ridiculously large library and I get the impression a lot of people outside of Japan still have yet to dig deep into its JRPG library beyond the usual suspects. That’s because most people get turned off by their difficulty, their obtuseness, or their slowness, but Shadow Brain defies all of those expectations. Shadow Brain is an exceptionally thoughtful game that offers some of the best world building on the platform alongside convenient and smart features that wouldn’t become commonplace in the genre until years later. It’s rare that we see something so ambitious that actually works out, so this game is worth celebrating for that reason alone.
Super Metal Crusher
Super Metal Crusher is an impressively ambitious idea for 1991 that tragically falls flat on its face. The sheer number of attributes and options you have at your disposal mean nothing when you're expected to watch your robot wander about and hope for the best. A startling lack of gameplay variety and reasons to learn how the game works makes the experience lose its shine very quickly, but to its benefit, there's little else out there like it...
After all is said and done, my biggest problem with Woody Pop is how very unlike Sega it feels. Sega games have immediate energy and evoke excitement in ways that makes their games unique to this day, whether that's through high octane gameplay or even just an announcer that's really happy to be there. Woody Pop is just tepid though, even for its time, with action that remains the same the whole way through, an almost complete absence of music in a game that could have really used it, and visuals that lack any lasting charm and fail to make the game's setting feel alive.