16-bit shooters are reborn in the early-access title KITE! Super Nintendo and Genesis fans take heed because Kite’s Universal Soldier vibe and 90’s-era pixel graphics make blasting through a cyberpunk dystopia sheer bliss! Hop on board now, because this title is already a ton of fun.
The Phantom 2040 cartoon series from 1994 is perhaps one of the lesser known Phantom comic character outings, but it stands out as one of the best, thanks to its intelligent plots and bizarre character designs (props to Æon Flux–creator Peter Chung). The show ran for only two seasons, but spawned one of the most undeservedly overlooked platformers of the era, the titular Phantom 2040 for the SNES (which also had versions released on the Genesis and Game Gear systems).
What makes the game stand out? Sure, it has tight controls, unique weapons, and smooth animations ala Flashback, but what else? How about Metroidvania style levels with multiple ways to complete them, and a branching story that leads to differing twists and over 20 unique endings based on how your progress through the game? Yes, 20 endings, and while you may not get them all, you’ll definitely be starting over after completing the game to take that missed pathway, and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on until you simply can’t remember which ones you took and didn’t take.
On it’s surface, the game plays like a smoother Another World crossed with any ol’ platform shooter, letting you blast, jump, and power up your way through the future city of Metropia on a quest to stop corruption and crime. But soon enough you’ll realize that you’re in for more of a Metroid experience, thanks to the Inductance Rope too that lets you scale walls and swing from the ceiling ala Bionic Commando. You’ll be scouting out how to get that difficult-to-reach power up, and you’ll find yourself using the city map between levels to re-visit previous locations to open up more areas thanks to newly acquired items. Speaking of items, while many are weapons, there are some unique ones in there, such as pellets that you can drop to douse local flames. You can build quite a hefty arsenal if you put the time in, and most items are worth playing around with, even if not required to progress.
The story is told through illustrated cut scenes, occasionally launching into animated full-screen affairs that show the wonder of the SNES’s later days. Like the show it’s based on, the game’s story has more variety and flair than most of it’s ilk, and I found myself checking out the Peter Chung-designed weirdos portraits for a while before I even read the next plot reveal.
Where Phantom 2040 succeeds in gameplay, story, atmosphere, and variety, it lets down a little in the sound department. None of the music or effects are overtly terrible, but everything from the digitized shout on a new-game start to the enemies’ explosions seem somehow muted, like a collection of great audio clips were neutered on their way through production into mere adequate fair. The graphics are the opposite, however; while the Phantom and some humanoid enemies seem to stand too erect and walk too stiff-legged, the animations and rendering on everything else is worth studying.
In the end, I can’t recommend Phantom 2040 enough; I’ve beat it, but I haven’t finished playing it, and is there any better compliment you can pay a game?
A lot of modern gamers will claim the Super Nintendo as the godfather of JRPG’s, and there’s good reason for that.
It hosts the classics of the genre, such as Final Fantasy III (or VI, if you’re one of those people), Illusion of Gaia, and Chrono Trigger, to name a few. But those are just the big guns, the games everyone and their grandmother has heard about. Inindo: The Way of the Ninja is one of a slew of Japanese Role Playing Games that came stateside for the SNES and has, for one reason or another, been forgotten by the wayside. Does it deserve to be left there?
The short answer: no. Released circa 1993 by Koei, Inindo has a lot going for it that other JRPG’s of the era don’t have. First, the hero isn’t your average boy-whose-village-is-destroyed-by-the-villain-and-is-out-for-revenge kinda kid. Err, actually, that’s exactly what he is. But this boy is a ninja in a somewhat historically accurate feudal Japan, and the villain he’s going after is Oda Nobunga.
If that name is familiar to you, and not because you’re a historian of ancient Japan, it’s because KOEI has been making Nobunaga’s Ambition historical strategy games since 1986. That said, Inindo is the first and only traditional RPG to find it’s way into KOEI’s Nobunaga-repertoire. The historic setting definitely gives the game a unique feel–you still visit inns, but you also visit Tea Houses. You still get party members, but you have to gain enough of their trust and enough levels to be able to recruit them. You can also start a duel with recruitable characters, and beat the stuffing out of them to show that you mean business. Shame I couldn’t do that in other JRPG’s–I’m talking to you, comic relief!
The setting is enhanced by bits of historical facts dished out by the NPC’s that you’ll talk to in towns, and also from the occasional shifts in political power in certain regions as you walk through them via an overworld map. Every so often, a risk-type map of feudal Japan will pop up, and cycle through battles between feudal lords (called “daimyō”). Nobunaga is one of these, and each political shift brings him closer to total rule over the region. After you get renowned enough, you can speak with daimyō’s, and spy on other rulers for them or carry out various tasks to curry favor. When you have enough, you can unite them against Nobunaga.
The shifts in regional power within the game occur when a certain amount of days have passed, which is calculated via the overworld’s day-night cycle. Yes, you heard right–this 20+ year old SNES RPG actually has a day-night cycle, shown by the dimming and brightening of the screen while traveling on the overworld map. Your character has to rest, too, and when he wakes up, he can be ambushed by traveling recruitable party members. Lose, and you get robbed of all your cash and are injured, causing attack and defense penalties that require medical attention or items to remove.
Sound rough? It is. This is a tough game, but gets less so the more you push on. You can’t grind excessively, because duels don’t give you experience, and there’s programming that makes enemies disappear if you’re way too powerful for them. And guess what? Overworld random enemy encounters are super-rare. This can give the game a somewhat linear feel, which may turn off some RPG’ers.
Aside from all the nifty features present in Inindo, it is, at it’s heart, a traditional JRPG. You fight turn-based battles against giant rats, snakes, and “bushwhackers,” which I guess is what KOEI called bandits in the early 90’s. The graphics have been bashed by other critics as NES quality, and while that’s not true, they can’t compete with the SQUARE, CAPCOM, or ENIX RPG’s of the era. The spell and attack effects are underwhelming, and the character sprites and background illustrations are the bare minimum for a 16 bit system. That said, the unique elements of Inindo kept me coming back for more, and the promise of different events on different play-through’s tells me I’ll be hitting this one up again down the retro road.