Game Opinion Summaries: TurboGrafx (Turbo) CD / PC Engine CD – An Amazing System!

System History

The TurboGrafx-CD, also known as the PC Engine CD, was the first ever home gaming platform that used CD-based media. The only even remotely similar predecessor is the Japan-only MSX Laserdisc drive from the mid ’80s, but that was mostly just used for games which played video in the background while putting MSX graphics on top, I believe, and had very thin support and an extremely high price. The PC Engine/Turbo CD was pricey, but was within the realm of possibility for normal people. When Hudson first thought of the idea of a home system with CD media in the mid ’80s, it was a crazy-advanced idea. When the system released in late 1988 in Japan hard drives were far too small to fit all of the data from a CD, so they had to use very expensive setups in order to test games — and to try a game, you’d have to spend a lot of money to get a CD made. This was long before CD-Rs. But after NEC released the PC Engine, a year later they followed it with the PCE CD, so despite an initially extremely thin game library, the CD drive released. The launch games were Fighting Street, a fine port of the bad arcade game Street Fighter (1), and NoRiKo, a “game” about an idol singer popular at the time.

The original Turbo CD and PCE CD are in the form of a two-part addon, one a base unit that your TurboGrafx or PC Engine attaches to (the two regions have different designs, but the same internals), and the other a CD drive that also attaches to the base unit (these are identical between regions except for color and language text on the shell). It’s a somewhat odd system, but it works. The base unit has the added hardware in it, including a capacitor-backed save memory chip that allows games to save data to the system and a tiny 64KB of RAM to load data from the disc, plus another 64KB of RAM meant for audio loading, though some games used it for more data, if they could squeeze the audio into a smaller space. The base unit also has composite AV output jacks on the back, for better video quality than the RF that the original TG16 or PCE support. Hudson and NEC would later release many more models, and two more CD formats, the Super CD system card (with 256KB of RAM onboard) and the Arcade Card (with 2MB of RAM onboard), but with addons the first system can play any CD games. The Turbo CD and Turbo Duo (combo system with Super CD and HuCard systems built in to one unit) were miserable failures in the US, selling an unknown but not out of the tens of thousands number of systems. In Japan, though, it was a successful format, and had game support from its release in late 1989 until early 1997, followed by one final game in late 1999. The Turbo/PCE CD is probably the most successful console addon ever compared to the amount its base system sold, probably in no small part thanks to the Duo line getting CD drives into the hands of most everyone who bought a PCE from late 1991 on. However, because of how badly it did in the US, only a small fraction of the systems’ library released here. Many games have language barriers, but thankfully, unlike TurboGrafx-16 HuCards, the CD system is region-free, so import CDs work fine on any system. I do have a region-modded TG16, but still, not having to get the CD drive modded too or something is great.


This list seems to have the most text per review of any of the threads in this series yet, I think… but even so, they’re not quite as long as full reviews — compare that Avenger review thread I made recently to the Avenger summary below, this one is shorter. Still, some are not short. I had fewer games to cover, so I put more time into each one, and also a bunch of these games are imports which a lot of people probably don’t know all that well or have never heard of at all, so I spent more time explaining stuff. I hope it helps.

For one last starting note, I only have the regular Turbo CD system so far. I got the CD drive repaired, by PC Engine FX’s Keith Courage, this past summer, but only had a US system card 2.0 at the time, and haven’t gotten anything better yet. I think I’ll get a Super System Card pretty soon, and more Super CD games to go with it, but I wanted to do this thread as it is first, before I go into those games as well. The CD drive mostly works, but still has some issues, worse with some games than others — Avenger almost always runs fine for instance, but the sound very often fails early in level 1 of Daisenpuu Custom. There’s clearly still something not right with this drive, which is a bit annoying given that the laser is new (replaced with the repairs). Ah well, at least it usually works, and that’s fantastic, I love the system despite the occasional music-failure annoyances.

Of course, as I said above, so far I can only play regular CD titles on my Turbo CD system, so that’s all I actually review; I’ve played other games elsewhere, but I almost always only review games I’ve played on the original system in lists like this one. Super and Arcade CD games usually have better graphics than regular CD titles, since they have more RAM to work with, but these are what I’ve played so far, and some of them look nice. There are quite a few regular CD titles, so there’s been plenty to play.

[Later Edit: With some help from Keith Courage of PCEFX I finally found the correct CD drive laser pot settings within a few months of posting this article, and it has worked fine since.]

One last thing: if I don’t say what region of the game I have, it’s the US version (Japanese titles are marked). Also, for simplicity I just call the system the “Turbo CD” or TCD no matter what region the game is from. It’s all the same system after all.

Here normally I list my favorite games for the platform in question, but I’m not sure if I can make a list with much confidence yet, but I can mention some games I definitely like: Alzadick, Avenger, Cosmic Fantasy 2, Shanghai II, Splash Lake, Ys I & II, and Efera & Jiliora. There are more games than those that I like, though; it’s always hard to choose, and there are so many more games than these that I need to play, too… I’ve played some in emulation, but far from all!

Table of Contents

The Addams Family
Alzadick: Summer Carnival ’92 (J)
Avenger (J)
Bikkuriman Daijikai (J)
Cosmic Fantasy 2
Daisenpuu Custom (J)
Deko Boko Densetsu (J)
Down Load 2 (J)
Efera & Jiliora: The Emblem from Darkness (J)
Final Zone II (J)
Gulclight TDF2 (J)
Hihou Densetsu: Chris no Bouken (J)
Jantei Monogatari II: Uchuu Tantei Deiban: Shutsoudouhen (J)
Jantei Monogatari II: Uchuu Tantei Deiban: Kanketsuhen (J)
Last Alert
L-Dis (J)
The Legend of Xanadu (J)
Legion (J)
Mateki Densetsu Astralius (J)
Pomping World (J) [J ver. of Buster Bros.]
Prince of Persia
Puyo Puyo CD (J)
Ranma 1/2 (J)
Record of Lodoss War (J)
Road Spirits (J)
Rom Rom Stadium (J)
Shanghai II (J)
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Side Arms Special (J) (aka Sidearms Special)
Splash Lake
Super Albatross (J)
Ultra Box Vol. 6 (J)
Valis IV — The Fantasm Soldier (J)
Ys Books I & II

TURBO CD Game Opinion Summaries

The Addams Family – One player. The Addams Family, from Icom, is a TCD-exclusive, and US-only-released, 2d platformer based on the Addams Family. Ocean also made Addams Family games, released on many platforms, based off of the movies from around that time, but this game is not Ocean’s game, it is entirely different. As with most of Icom’s platformers, though, the game has issues. Icom could make good adventure games, but their platformer abilities had more mixed results, and you can see that here. The Ocean games are also kind of mediocre, though, so I don’t know which is better. So, in this game, as you would expect from an Addams Family game, you play as… their greedy lawyer. Yes, you do not play as any of the Addams’s in this game, but instead play as their lawyer, armed with an umbrella which can shoot bullets, who is at the mansion attempting to collect some money from their safe, because apparently they owe it to him. As usual on the Turbo CD, the story is told through static images with voiceover behind them. This game does not have actual cutscenes or voice actors from the movie in it, but instead has static images and its own, lower-budget, cast. It’s good enough to do for a game. Your character’s job won’t be easy, though, because the Addams Family will not just allow him to go in and take the cash, he’ll have to earn it, if he can stay alive. It seems like a strange choice of characters to me, as the Ocean games all have you playing as Fester, Gomez, or Puggsly Addams (no, no games for the female characters, Ocean was sexist clearly), but I guess it works. You have several lives, but no continues, in this game, so it won’t be easy to complete. As with all of Icom’s platformers I’ve played, the game has somewhat suspect collision detection; they just never quite got it right. This game rarely demands super-accurate platform jumping, as you’ll probably be doing more shooting than jumping, but still it is annoying. The graphics and music are okay. They’re not high-budget work, clearly, but they’re acceptable and look better than some Western movie-licensed games. There are some nice details at times as well, such as areas where one of the Addamses is hitting golf balls at you from the background that you have to avoid, a fight against psychically controlled toys in Wednesday’s room, and more.

This game starts out with a linear stage where you go to the mansion, but once you arrive, it gets a bit more open-ended. Your goal in the mansion is to search for keys that let you go in doors, so as to explore more of the mansion and eventually find that money. Again, you do a lot of shooting in this game. Bosses take a lot of hits to defeat, and even normal enemies need a few shots, and you can’t jump on enemies to hurt them, that’ll just get you hurt. Level designs are okay, but nothing great. Because of the loading for each area, it’s annoying when I go through a door only to find a single-screen dead end room, because that means right back to the load screen… oh well. This game is on the short side if you know where to go and what to do, but it will take some practice before you get good enough to stay alive and go to the right places. I’ve gotten partway through it, but haven’t gotten more than a third of the way into it so far, I think. It’s an okay game, I guess. My first impression of this game was poor, but once I got used to the way the game plays, with having to avoid the enemies and shoot them, and also learning where to go at which point, it started getting a bit better. This game isn’t too expensive, so if you have a Turbo CD and like platformers, give it a try; it’s average at best and probably isn’t quite that, but there are much worse games out there, and this game does have some unique elements to it, such as all of the exploration required in this game that you didn’t usually see in platformers in 1991.

Alzadick: Summer Carnival ’92 (J exclusive) – One player, saves to internal memory. Alzadick is a time-trial shmup, or space shooter, designed for a contest held that summer by its publisher Naxat Soft. This game doesn’t really have a normal full single player game; there is a “Story” mode, but there are only two levels there, and they won’t take long at all to complete. Instead, it’s just got a 2 minute score attack mode and a 5 minute time attack mode on one level (it’s got two bosses, one at 2 mins and one at 5), and a 2 minute score attack practice mode on a second level that has no bosses. And that’s it. As a result of the extremely limited content, reviews of this game are usually harsh or dismissive. However, after trying teh game in an emulator, I quickly came to love this game, and I had to have it after I got the actual system, too. And yes, I’m still playing this game regularly. It may have only five minutes of content, but this is my favorite TG16/CD timed-mode level that I’ve played so far. Alzadick has great graphics for a regular CD title too, and even has some parallax scrolling! Very nice. The next shmup Naxat Soft published, the exceptional Super CD game Nexzr, looks better, but even so, Alzadick does a good job and looks great. The level designs are great as well. As you would expect from a CD title, Alzadick has a great CD audio soundtrack. That is really the only thing here that makes the choice of a CD necessary, but this electronic-music soundtrack is fantastic and easily justifies it on its own! I like Alzadick’s soundtrack a lot. There aren’t many tracks, but what there are are great. I wish that the game had more levels, of course, but the two that it does have are both good, very well-designed levels. Alzadick isn’t a pushover, either; it took me some time practicing until I was able to complete the 5 minute mode. The game actually requires some skill to complete. The game also saves (to the system) your best score in each of the three score-attack modes, which is nice.

Alzadick is a fairly traditional 4th gen shooter. Your ship has four weapon types, each of which is a different firing pattern for your gun. I prefer type 3 myself, since that gives the most forward and side fire coverage. Try not to get hit, since hits will reduce weapon power, and reduced weapon power will greatly decrease your scoring potential. If you get hit at minimum weapon strength you lose a life, and three deaths and you lose. With a little practice game over will be quite rare, but getting hit a time or two and losing weapon power happens, and ruins games. That’s okay, though; this game does require skill, and that’s great. I wouldn’t like this game nearly as much if it was easy. You also have a superbomb, but only have ONE per run and there are no pickups for more. You choose one of four firing patterns for the superbomb before you start each game. Each of the four patterns has advantages and disadvantages, but I think I like the six-lines-up or swirl styles best. I find the bomb most useful at the midboss (2 minute point boss), myself. Graphics and enemy types repeat often, but there is enough variety to keep things interesting. Each enemy wave usually waits until the previous one is done before entering the screen, which is a key strategic element — killing waves faster will fit more waves into the limited time. There are also some hidden bonuses, of course.

Naxat Soft based its 2 and 5 minute modes in this and their other shmups on Hudson’s 2 and 5 minute modes popularized in the Star Soldier series (from Super Star Soldier on), but unlike Hudson, where your goal in either mode is simply to score as many points as possible in the set time, Naxat changes the rules. Two minute mode works like Hudson: Your goal is to score as many points as you can in the set time. The applies to both the “Practice” mode, which is just another 2-minute mode just without a boss at the end due to that level not having one, and the regular 2 minute mode, which takes the first two minutes of the main 5 minute stage and has you play that. In 5 minute mode, however, your goal is actually to see how quickly you can score one million points. Once you score a million points, the game ends. If you fail to reach a million before the five minute timer runs out, you lose. In addition, you must meet a mid-point score requirement too. Oddly, while nothing else in this game is configurable, you can set the time and points needed at this midpoint score. The default requires 500,000 points at 2:30, which is challenging but possible with some practice. Avoid getting hit much! You can easily make impossible goals of course, too. Want to set it to requiring 900,000 points in a minute? You could never succeed, but it lets you set it to that anyway if you want. This is kind of a weird feature, though, considering that you cannot change the overriding 5 minute timer and 1 million point overall victory condition. Still, it’s kind of neat to mess with, for making things easier while you’re still learning the stage, or harder after you’ve played the game a lot. As for the “Story” mode, the two levels there are one for each of the two stages. Before and after each level there’s a screen of Japanese text telling you the story. I don’t know what it is. The levels are the same in Score Attack or Story mode, though, except in Story mode you only get one ship, so if you die you lose and will have to try again. The first stage (“Practice” in Score Attack) still doesn’t have a boss, unfortunately. Otherwise I like that stage, though; it’s a cool looking big red ship. The second stage (2/5 minute modes in Score Attack) is much longer and better designed, and has those two bosses, but the color scheme is more muted.

Overall, I really, really like Alzadick. The game is expensive — expect to pay $50-plus for the game — but I, at least, think that it’s great. The game has limited content, and playing it over and over will eventually reach diminishing returns as the game, like most 4th gen shmups, does not have a complex scoring system so all you can really do is try to kill more of the enemies and panels faster in order to get a few more waves to appear, but even so, this game is just so much fun to play through that I don’t really mind that. Alzadick was one of my most-played games in TG16 emulation, and now I’m playing it quite a bit on the actual system too. The game is one of my favorite regular-CD titles on the system, and is a great game to sit down with and play for ten minutes here and there.

Avenger (J exclusive) – One player. Avenger is from Laser Soft, which was one of Telenet Japan’s many divisions, along with Riot, Reno, Renovation, and Wolf Team. Telenet released many Turbo CD games, including this 1990 title, but faded mid-generation, and by 1995 Telenet had fallen apart. Wolf Team was bought by Namco (they became Namco’s Tales Studio), Renovation’s American publishing arm was bought by Sega, and the rest shut down or became a shadow of its former self; Telenet’s 1995-2004 (their last year) release library consists exclusively of pachinko, slot machine, and mahjong games. While they lasted though, Telenet made some interesting games. Telenet supported the Genesis and SNES, but they released the first third-party game for the Turbo CD, and supported the Sega CD for several years as well. Avenger is not one of Telenet’s more popular releases, however, but I think it’s an under-appreciated, quite high quality game. This game released in 1990, still in the early years of CD gaming. The game has a Turbo CD-style introduction (with mostly static images and a voiceover on top) and ending, which is nice; unfortunately the story before each stage is just told in Japanese text, but still, the intro is nice. Many other early, regular-CD Turbo CD shmups don’t do that and are just expanded HuCard games with CD music. In between levels there are also some nice static images with a fanfare, showing the level you just blasted through. These recieve praise, but the ingame graphics are often harshly criticized. And while it is true that many of the environments are bland, I think that the art design of the ships is pretty good. I think this game looks okay, really — the ships look nice enough and are well designed, and the action is fast, furious, and sometimes flashy. The CD audio soundtrack is also reasonably good. It’s not one of the system’s best, but it’s good and does a fine job of backing the action. Overall the game looks okay and sounds good.

In terms of its gameplay, Avenger reminds me a bit of a Toaplan-style game (like Twin Cobra or so) in design, but the game has one key original design idea: your ship, which is a futuristic helicopter, can rotate left or right, and by holding the II button (I fires; leave the Turbo switches OFF for this game or the controls will not work right!), you can lock your turret. With Turbo on the lock won’t work, so leave it off. You have autofire anyway. You can aim up to about a 45 degree angle in either direction. You also have a “bomb” attack and secondary weapons, and have a shield which can take 5 hits. One ship type drops powerups when destroyed, which then cycle between upgrading your main weapon, your secondary weapon, or giving you a hit point back if you’ve taken damage. There are three of each type of weapon, which you slowly unlock over the course of the game (though there is a code that lets you use all of them from the beginning). It’s a solid system, and I like the different options you have. The health is important too; it’s easy to get hit in this game and if you die you start the level over, so the health system gives you some margin for error. Also, the weapon-select screen options are in English, which is nice. The aiming-lock system is highly reminiscent of the design used in the much later title Under Defeat for the Sega Dreamcast. I absolutely loved that game (it’s my second favorite Dreamcast shmup, after only Ikaruga!), and then heard that this one does something similar, and that made me want to check out Avenger. The bland graphics left me initially unimpressed, but after getting my Turbo CD repaired this year I decided to buy the game anyway. I’m very glad that I did, because as I said, I think this game is good. I really love the aiming-with-lock controls, they are what makes the game so interesting I think. Avenger is a challenging game which will require practice to beat. YOu get infinite continues, but because you lose all powerups when you die, and there are some very challenging parts where having more power will be a big help, memorizing the game enough to stay alive is important. Some enemies shoot at you, but others shoot in patterns you must learn the safe points in. The last level can be very frusterating after you die the first time, for instance… but that’s how shmups worked back in 1990, I don’t hold that against the game. It just made beating it that much more of an accomplishment, anyway. Avenger lets you play some of the levels in different orders, which can add some variety, but you’ll need to play all the levels anyway in order to complete the game. Despite the frustration some of the harder parts of the game induces, I keep coming back to this game anyway, which says something. Avenger may not have the best graphics (though they are better than, say, Kyuukyoku Tiger (Twin Cobra) on HuCard…), but it has some addictive, quality gameplay, and the game is well worth playing. I’d highly recommend this to any Under Defeat fan, and recommend it generally as well. This is a solid, fun, under-rated shmup.

Bikkuriman Daijikai (J exclusive) – One player, password save. This isn’t really a game, and I’m not one who can “play” it. Bikkuriman Daijikai is bascally a fan/data disc, full of character descriptions and such, all in Japanese of course, and not much else. The only “gameplay” is some trivia questions, which is where the passwords come into play… though why a game on a system with internal saving has password-only saving, I have no idea. THis was one of Hudson’s earlier discs for the system in 1989, so at the time that they could do something like this at all — a disc full of images and audio clips and such — was very original, but it has aged very badly and tehre’s no reason to touch this today unless you know Japanese and are a serious Bikkuriman fan, which I’m not on either count. I have this because it came in a lot with some stuff I was interested in. Obviously the quiz questions are impossible to answer unless you know Japanese and know about Bikkuriman, too. I don’t know either one.

Cosmic Fantasy 2 – One player, saves to internal memory. Cosmic Fantasy 2, by Laser Soft (Telenet) and translated and published in the US by Working Designs, is a traditional JRPG. It’s a very simplistic one, with Dragon Quest-inspired but even more simplified combat that has basic, special attack, critical hit, and miss-free combat, but it is an RPG. The game has cutscenes (with minimal animation as per usual on Turbo CD), nice in-game graphics with decent-sized sprites and some nice graphical design, and a story that is part cliche, part original. The extreme simplicity of the battles may seem bad, given that even bosses will just do a set amount of damage per hit, every turn, but you get used to it, and the good graphics and decent, if initially cliche, story keep you going. As for that story, you are of course a boy from a medieval village who has to rescue his childhood friend/female love interest after she gets kidnapped because she is actually a princess. Yeah, zero points for originality there, even back in the early ’90s. It gets a bit more interesting later, though — as per the title, this isn’t a pure fantasy game, but does have sci-fi elements and a darker side to its story. I’m not all that far into the game, but honestly, even though I didn’t really expect to, I’m liking this game. The encounter rate is annoying, but it could be worse, and the presentation helps as well. Also, even though the combat is extremely simple, that isn’t all bad. Sure it means there isn’t much variety, but it also means you can plan what will happen quite nicely. I do like that. Cosmic Fantasy 2 got at least one US magazine’s “RPG of the Year” award in 1992, and I can kind of see why — between the then-impressive CD elements such as CD music, cutscenes, etc (this was the first menu-based RPG on a console in the US, after all), the good graphics, and the simple but decent gameplay behind that, it’s an okay package. I would have liked to see more complexity for sure, and don’t know if I have the patience to get all the way through this game, but still, for what it is, with good graphics, a decent story, okay gameplay, and more, it is good and was worth getting. Also available on Sega CD, in Japanese only, in the “Cosmic Fantasy Stories” collection.

Daisenpuu Custom (J exclusive) – One player. Daisenpuu, or Twin Hawk as the Western arcade release was called, is a vertical shmup from Toaplan. The game is somewhat like Twin Cobra (aka Kyuukyoku Tiger), but has several unique elements, most notably its allied-fighter system and its complete lack of any aerial enemies. In this game only bullets can kill you, all enemies are strictly land or water-bound. Indeed, almost all enemies in this game are tanks or ships. There are a lot of different kinds of tanks, but at first the very limited enemy variety can get repetitive. I got used to it after a while, though, and it does make the game unique. The idea is that your nation has planes, while the enemy in this World War II-analog world has only ground forces, tanks and ships particularly. So, you’re going in to stop them. You gain greater firepower yourself with some powerups, but it just adds more guns; there are no alternate weapons. This is a simple game. The allied-fighter system brings six fighters onto the screen when you press the other button. This replaces the megabomb many shmups have. These fighters will fly straight ahead and shoot, too, so they will increase your firepower. However, if they get hit by bullets, they’ll go down. They will shift left and right slightly if you move left and right, but you can’t really maneuver them much. Still, they can help kill enemies, or protect you in key moments if you plan ahead, since it takes a little while for them to fly onto the screen. Daisenpuu has lots of bullets to avoid, and is a challenging game as always from Toaplan. Daisenpuu isn’t their hardest game, but it is a good challenge.

This version, however, is Daisenpuu Custom, the CD release. Most reviewers are very harsh on the CD version, and say that you should play the HuCard version instead. Well, I have that version as well, and honestly, I like this CD version more. The biggest difference between the two versions is, of course, that the CD version has CD audio music. Unfortunately this was clealry a very low budget port, so there aren’t any cutscenes whatsoever, but at least it does have a quite nice CD audio soundtrack, which is a massive improvement over the poor, annoying music of the HuCard version. Toaplan could do great cartridge music, but Daisenpuu doesn’t show that at all. Fortunately though, this CD version exists as well. Second, the CD version adds one all-new level, and has new bosses for the first and last levels as well. Also, it breaks the game into levels, instead of being one always-scrolling game as the cartridge versions are. This was necessary because of the CD medium, but some people might dislike it. I don’t mind, though, and like the new bosses — the game fills in some areas where the HuCard has bizarre gaps, where I expected a boss but there is nothing. The new level is nice as well. However, and this has gotten a lot of criticism, they did change some things, and reduced level variety in some areas. So, the flooded-city section in level 2 is gone, replaced with more generic streets. Level 1’s bridge is gone, replaced with a rock bridge that matches the rest of the area. Some other areas later in the game are altered as well. This was likely done in order to give each level a more consistent visual look beginning to end for RAM-restriction reasons; remember that regular CD titles have only 64KB of RAM to work with. It’s not much. I do wish that that flooded city section had remained, but overall, I think the complaints about the graphical alterations are overplayed. The actual gameplay is exactly the same, after all, and there IS more content overall thanks to those added bosses and that new level, where you go through a desert city. Overall Daisenpuu Custom is a simple but very fun shooter that I think is pretty good. This game is not visually complex and doesn’t have much depth, but the simple fun of flying along and shooting tanks and ship turrets with solid Toaplan shooting design behind it holds up. This is another good, under-rated game. It can’t hope to compete visually with the later Super CD shmups, but the gameplay is good. Daisenpuu Custom is an arcade port with added content, so this version is TCD-exclusive, but the original Daisenpuu is available in arcades, Genesis (Japan only release), and TurboGrafx-16 (Japan only release).

Deko Boko Densetsu (J exclusive) – Five players (with multitap). Deko Boko Densetsu is a racing game from Telenet (yes, again!) that was clearly inspired by the Moto Roader games for the TG16. Essentially, Dekoboko Densetsu is a somewhat cutesey and simplified Moto Roader clone. The game is a top-down racing game where all cars are always on the screen together at all times, as you’d expect, and you have to complete a series of races. If you win, you move on to the next race; otherwise, try again. There are five racers per race, and each can either be a human or an AI, as in Moto Roader. Unlike that game, though, Dekoboko does not have car part buying or different course options. Instead, you just play through one championship, that’s it, and go straight from each race to the next. The part-buying element to Moto Roader added some strategy, but as it basically ended up being a frustrating puzzle minigame (in Moto Roader, you need to buy parts in the correct order if you want to have a serious chance at winning races), that’s not all bad. Losing the different circuit choices is unfortunate, though. To mix things up a bit, the game does have some weapon pickups, which is nice. As with Moto Roader though, if you’re at the forward edge of the screen, and thus ahead in the race, you have almost no forward vision. This means that either you must memorize all the tracks, or stay farther back on the screen until late in the race. You get used to it, but it can be frustrating sometimes. There are also obstacles and traps to avoid on the course. If a car takes too much damage it will explode, so try to avoid them if you want to have any hope of finishing even the first race — this game is challenging at first. With practice you will get used to the game, but there is a learning curve. As for the visuals, I like the graphics. The game has an amusing opening which starts out trying to fool you into thinking that this is some serious racing game before revealing the cute reality underneath that. Not bad. Ingame, the graphics are simple, but competently drawn and reasonably varied. The music is decent as well. Overall Deko Boko Densetsu probably isn’t as good as the Moto Roader games, since it is simpler and has less content, but it is a decent little game worth a try. Even though I find Moto Roader kind of annoying, I do think this game is alright.

Down Load 2 (aka Download 2) (J exclusive) – One player. Down Load 2, aka Download 2, is the sequel to NEC’s great HuCard shmup Down Load, and it’s an interesting game. Flawed, but interesting. Both games are cyberpunk-themed shmups with a decent story and good graphics and gameplay. As with the first game, Down Load 2 is a horizontal shmup. This game is easier than the first game, and indeed the low difficulty level is probably this games’ greatest flaw, but with some good cutscenes, solid gameplay, and good graphics with some impressive effects, Down Load 2 is a good game anyway. While you play as the same guy from the first game, this game changes the game system significantly from the first one. In the first game you had a health bar, but if you died you started the stage over. Also you could choose from two of each of your two weapons at the start of each level (which you were then stuck with for the stage), and had a speed-select button. This time your ship is larger — it’s a ship, not just a bike — and you can switch between your four weapons at any time. The weapons themselves are different, too. Also it now has speed powerups instead of letting you choose, and most importantly, you die in one hit this time. You do get multiple lives now, though, and most levels have some checkpoints. The reduced difficulty means that it’s much easier to avoid taking damage than it was in the first game, though; the removal of the health-up item, as there are no extra lives in this game, is really not a problem at all.

Now, for a HuCard game, Down Load had a lot of cutscenes. In a longplay where the player doesn’t die, cutscenes took up 17 minutes of DL1’s 45 minute length. DL2 is 50 minutes, but 25 minutes are taken up with cutscenes this time, so overall this CD game actually has several minutes LESS gameplay than its HuCard predecessor does; disappointing! Also, this time each level is about the same length. In the first game one level had only one section and was over in a minute or two, while the last had four stages and took over seven minutes. This time, all levels are two to 2 and a half minutes long, and have only one stage each. There is a boss at the end of each level. Some are easy, others are hard; this games’ difficulty balance could have used some work. Harder difficulty settings are badly needed too, since some bosses are way too easy. Ah well. The graphics in this game are fantastic, though. TG16 games, and regular CD titles in particular, rarely use any parallax scrolling, but this game is FULL of it! And it’s not only the basic “different vertical strips of the screen scroll at different speeds” stuff, either; this game has some real “scrolling plane behind the playfield” parallax too. Awesome. The visual themes are interesting, too. The first two levels look very similar to some stages from the first game, but after that it branches out as you start using your VR/computer to travel through time as you chase the villains. The cutscenes look nice; though the character art is by a different person from the first game (another change!), it looks great. Your main character guy sure has a lot of nude scenes in this game… As always animation is limited, but they did a good job with the system. Of course the voice acting is in Japanese, so I don’t really know what was going on, but the basics are easy enough to figure out. For one mild spoiler, yes, at the end of this game, you fight a reborn infant-Hitler-monster thing, on a level full of red biological stuff and Nazi imagery. Yeah, really. Killing Hitler once again? What could be better, for a videogame story? Some of the earlier levels, as you travel through time, are very cool as well. The Rome level is particularly interesting. I thought it was quite clever how the background “pictures” attack you. The Hindu-themed level looks great as well, though it was too short.

Overall, Down Load 2 is a good game, but don’t expect it to last very long at all. This game is short and isn’t very hard, and as with far too many TG16/CD games, there are absolutely no modes or options in this game; it doesn’t even have cheat codes! And since you have infinite continues, unless you artificially limit yourself by not continuing, getting to the last level will be easy. I had a bit more trouble with the final boss, and he did take some effort, but still, this game left me wanting more. I like the game system here — it’s different from the first game but is also good — but while the first Down Load is probably one of the best HuCard shmups I’ve played, this game is not quite on that level. The game isn’t cheap, either — expect to pay $25 to over $30 for this. If it was cheap I’d probably be more forgiving, but it’s not. Still, this IS a good game. I like the graphics and gameplay, and I’m sure I’ll replay it. DL2 is a decently good game, and a nice technical accomplishment for sure.

Efera & Jiliora: The Emblem from Darkness (J exclusive) – Two player simultaneous (with multitap), saves to system ( blocks). Efera & Jiliora, from Brain Grey, is a clearly Ys-inspired top-down fantasy action-RPG starring a pair of female warriors, one a mage and the other a fighter. This game has a somewhat dark story, good gameplay, two player co-op multiplayer, and good graphics, as well. Indeed, Efera & Jilora looks FAR better than Ys I & II does, with both a larger play window and larger, better sprites too. Very nice. The gameplay probably isn’t quite up to Ys’s level, though. While this game is pretty good, it can be frustrating at times — your melee weapons have a very short range, and this game does use a button to attack instead of Falcom-style bonking (see Ys below), so be careful. Grind is also required in this game, just like in Falcom games; after reaching the first town, for instance, the very next combat area is quite tough. Fortunately, like Ys, you can save anytime. Also, naturally, language is a factor here. It’s nice that the gaem does have voice acting in many cutscenes, and the cutscenes look good (even if, from the beginning, the story is not exactly happy), but there’s text as well, in towns and the like. Most of the time this game is easy enough to play, but you will need to talk to everyone in town, and then wander around as well looking for where to go next, if you can’t read the language as I can’t. Figuring out how to buy items takes practice too; stand on the little platforms in shops to buy. There are no walkthroughs in English for this game, so you’re on your own. Make sure to talk to EVERYONE, and explore the towns thoroughly. This game is manageable, as it’s reasonably linear, but I did get stuck sometimes starting early on, and had to explore and/or grind more in order to progress. The good gameplay and graphics made me want to keep going, though. I wish that someday this game gets a translation patch, and that would be really awesome, but it IS playable with a little effort — and that effort is worth it! Despite the occasional frustration, I definitely like this game more than Ys I & II. It looks better, and when I know what I’m doing it plays just as well or better, too. It’s also very cool that it has two player co-op! In single player you have to play as either Efera or Jiliora (I prefer playing as the mage, myself), but with another person, both can go through the game together. This is a relatively long RPG, so of course this will take a while, but if you have someone to play this with, go for it. Recommended! This game is sometimes overlooked, probably because of the language barrier, but it’s a great game that I really like, and it’s well worth getting.

Final Zone II – Final Zone II is a top-down run & gun developed by Telenet and released in the US by NEC. It’s considered somewhat average, but I like it. This game is the sequel to a Japanese computer game which was not released here; “Final Zone” on the Genesis is actually a version of the third (and last) game in this series. Final Zone II is one of the earlier CD releases in the US, which means, yes, horrendously bad voice acting! Somewhat like Last Alert, Final Zone II has comically bad voice acting its cutscenes which make even the tragic moments (such as the intro) kind of funny. It’s not all bad, though; this is “so bad it’s funny” stuff sometimes for sure. Final Zone II is a fairly simple game: get through the eight levels, all linear, vertically-scrolling stages, and you win. The graphics are good-sized and look pretty good for an early CD title. No complaints there. The music is decent to good, as well. The game has a sci-fi story, as you play as a small group of soldiers in powered armor suits who are teh only survivors from their ship and have to defeat the enemies and escape from the planet they crashed on. You start with only one guy, but unlock more as you progress. The female characters are in pink armor, of course, and there are some pretty sexist moments in the story, sadly. Fortunately, the actual gameplay is a lot better than the story. Yes, I like this game! Final Zone II is a simple game, and does not have Last Alert’s great strafing controls; instead, more like a Commando game, you simply shoot in the direction you’re facing, can use a special attack with the other button, and that’s it. The levels are well-designed and can be challenging at times, which is great. With enough replay I’m sure this game gets easy, but I think it has a good difficulty curve, and die regularly even on the first level. It’s not impossible though, just a solid challenge — which is great, compared to way-too-easy Last Alert. This is a simple, classic shooting game, and it’s a reasonably good one. I can understand why it gets some criticism, but I think its gameplay is a bit under-rated — I found myself having a lot more fun with this game than I expected to. Final Zone II doesn’t quite have Last Alert’s flash, as it has many fewer levels, simpler, more dated controls, no saving, and not as many cutscenes, but it does have solid gameplay, and it costs a lot less than Last Alert, too! So yeah, pick it up for a few bucks. It’s worth it, if you like action games (but if you don’t and can’t speak Japanese, then probably don’t bother with the TG16…).

Gulclight TDF2 (J) – One player, saves to internal memory. Gulclight TDF2 is a very basic, and flawed, turn-based tactical-style strategy game from Data West. This is an incredibly simplistic top-down sci-fi strategy game where you control a fleet of warships which have to defeat an alien menace. There aren’t any cutscenes here, though; the only story to be found here is the Japanese-language manual and the sentence or two of Japanese text in each mission briefing. The story is that you control the T.D.F. (Terrestrial Defense Force), Earth’s defense force of planes, land vehicles, and mechas who have to save the world from the evil Plea alien monsters. Production values don’t get much better ingame. Indeed, this is one of those games where the only thing justifying its choice of CD media is its CD music. The music is decent to good early-CD-videogame stuff. I like the opening-screen theme, and the ingame music is nice too. As for the graphics, the sprite work is decent; it’s average early ’90s mecha and monster stuff, which is a plus if you like that kind of thing. There are little “battle” animations between ships, when they fight, but they’re nothing a HuCard game couln’t have done. Military Madness’s are better, in fact — those actually have a custom background. Here, larger versions of your and the enemy’s ships appear with the stage map as a background, nothing more. And those stage backgrounds are not too thrilling. The first level is supposed to be a city at night, but it just comes across as a blue map with little rectangles and stuff on it, with no variation. The second level is better, with trees, roads, and hills (plus your units can move farther on roads than through the trees, too), but still the graphics are basic, and it doesn’t get better. This game has to have been made on an extremely limited budget! It is interesting that your units change from mission to mission, though. You are not following one unit, or one person’s, story, here, it seems. Instead, you’re just following the TDF’s battles in this war against the Plea.

As for import-ability, while the gameplay is too simple, this game is at least easy for the English-only speaker to play. The main screen displays and ingame menus are in English. Only the manual, mission briefing screens (there is nothing important on them), and ship and weapon names are in Japanese. Ship stats? What stats? All you can see is each TDF or PLEA ship/monster’s name, location, health bar, “Lv” bar, and movement range. Yes, this game is really stripped-down. Also, all units attack the same way: left/right/up/down only, and only to the next space. There are no ranged attackers here, no units that can use special abilities, heal the other ships, etc. Each one of your ships IS different — the weapons they are armed with (each unit has one or two weapons, but which ones each unit has vary) are not the same, and max health and movement ranges vary as well — but still, since all units operate and attack the same way, the game feels samey. Enemies have a similar lack or worse of variety — generally each mission has only a couple of enemy types. Since units don’t have real strength stats, levels, or anything, it’s hard to know exactly how strong any ship is, which is frustrating. On that note, as for that “Lv” bar, I’m not sure exactly WHAT it means. I’d to be able to read the manual to know that, and I can’t read Japanese, sadly, and there is no information about how to play this game online. I can tell that it changes based on which weapon you equip, though, so my only guess is that it represents max weapon power, or something along those lines. Lv is definitely not much of an indicator of unit strength. For instance the enemies on the first level have low Lv levels, but are much stronger than your individual ships anyway. This lack of numbers really is an issue. Imagine playing something like Fire Emblem, except your specific potential damage range and hit-chance percent are never displayed to the player! Yeah, it’s a pain. Those numbers have to exist, but you aren’t allowed to see what they are. Awful design there. All you can do is just look at how far the enemies’ health bar goes down, or doesn’t if it was a miss as it often is.

On the note of damage, at first I thought this game was broken and impossible. Looking at the two bits of “review” this game has online in English that I could find, at Mobygames and GameReviewDen, both comment on how hard this game is. And indeed, I lost badly my first handful of times I tried the game. The first level pits five of your ships against six enemies, and as I said earlier, on a one-on-one basis you are outgunned. Even though all units heal a bit every turn, I lost badly, rarely even managing to take out one enemy before being wiped out, or losing my lead unit; if your leader, the unit in the center of your starting group, loses, it’s an instant game over. I didn’t give up on the game, though, and eventually through luck and experimentation managed to figure out the key to the game: You can stack units! Specifically, you can put two units on a space. Then, if you tell one of those two units to attack, your first unit will attack, then the enemy will attack your first unit, and then your second unit will attack, become the “top” unit (swapping with the other unit). The enemy cannot attack that second unit, which is really important because they CANNOT stack like you can. There is one thing to be cautious of, though: your other units cannot move through a space which currently has two of your units on it. In the first mission this is irrelevant, since it’s in the air, but in land-based mission two, for example, this matters. Also, since you often seem to start with five units, you don’t start with an even number of units to group. Still, with this strategy, I was able to get through the first mission in only a couple of tries. Since luck is such an important factor in this game, both in hoping for enemy attacks to miss and for yours to hit, victory took a few tries, but this made it possible. What was my reward? A screen, in Engrish, saying “Congratuation”, of course! I could expect no better. However, I WAS surprised to see that the game saved my progress afterwards! The game does not initially create a save file, you see, so I thought it didn’t save… until I hit reset after losing a few times at mission two, and I found that yes, the game does indeed then create a file, so you can continue from any level you have reached. That’s fantastic. I also liked that mission two has a somewhat more strategic map, as I described earlier. So yeah, the very few things I’ve read about this game in English call it a terrible game, but it’s not THAT bad. The game is too simple (not much variety here!) and definitely has flaws, but I kind of enjoy it anyway, and will continue to play it once in a while for sure. It may or may not be worth a look, if you like this kind of game.

Hihou Densetsu: Chris no Bouken (J exclusive) – One player. Hihou Densetsu is an okay, but not great, platform-action game from Arc Co. Ltd, now known as Arc System Works. Yes, they did not always make good fighting games. Hihou Densetsu clearly was inspired by sources such as Indiana Jones, Ghosts n Goblins, Ys I&II, and other popular platformers and TG16 games. The game stars Chris (or something like that; the game has absolutely no English text either in the manual, CD, or ingame, so that’s just the best guess at how names should be spelled), a girl (yes, she is a girl, even though her sprite design and costume are somewhat androgynous) who is searching for her father, an archaeologist or something, who is missing in South America. So, she’s off on an adventure to go through tombs, kill Indians, villains, monsters, and the like. You know, it’s your usual racially insensitive adventure story through jungle tombs. There are a few twists along the way, though if you can read Japanese you’ll be spoiled for them, since apparently the manual describes every one of them in detail! Yeah, great idea there… or not. The story is told by cutscenes, and there is a cutscene between every level. They are done with TGCD-standard very limited amounts of animation. This game has even less animation than most games on this system, though; usually it’s just got a sequence of stills with a voiceover. The art design is solid, though. It’s nothing great or original, but the game is decently drawn. Don’t expect anything fancy like parallax here, though, and the graphics could look better, but aren’t awful either. Overall, the graphics are probably average. The games’ sound is also average.

Hihou Densetsu is a somewhat short game, but it makes up for its length with its difficulty. Please note, this game does NOT have saving. You do get unlimited continues, but have to start the game over if you turn the system off, always a very unwelcome “feature”. Each level in the game is made up of two stages and a bossfight at the end of the second stage, and the saving is between levels, not stages; run out of lives, and you start the level over. The stages in this game are short, but there is a clock and the time limits are even shorter, so it will take practice and memorization in order to get through each level. Thanks to the traps and tricky jumps this game really is memorization-heavy. The game is linear, though — there are very few times when you’re doing anything other than moving straight along a set path, so there isn’t really exploration. I don’t mind that, myself, and honestly kind of like the level designs, but some dislike the games’ fairly simple, linear stage layouts. The environment often is more of a threat than the enemies, but you will need to fight them off along the way as well, and learn boss patterns at the end of each level. One hint: The first disappearing platforms in the first level won’t disappear if you are standing on them, so after jumping on one don’t rush to try to get to the top quickly — you’re in no danger of falling. By level three or four the game won’t be so kind, though, so don’t get used to it. I haven’t managed to finish this game, but it’s decent enough that I expect I will eventually. Thanks to all the traps, memorization, and frustration the game sometimes stops being fun, but I do want to see the rest of the levels, and the game is decent enough to certainly be worth a try, at least for platformer fans. There are very few non-Super CD Turbo CD platformers outside of the Valis series, but this is one of them, and while nothing above average overall (and perhaps below it), it’s decent enough that I kind of like it.

Jantei Monogatari II: Uchuu Tantei Deiban: Shutsoudouhen (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Jantei Monogatari, published by Atlus, is a series of mahjong games. Yes, Atlus’s longest-running TG16/CD production was a mahjong series. As with most mahjong games, you play as a guy and play against various girls, with fanservicey scenes your reward for victory. This game has more story than just that, though — as the title (detective something) suggests, this is a sci-fi game. You play as future detective Deiban, and with your female sidekick have to stop various female villains before they can accomplish their villainous plots by beating them at mahjong. You start out defending some children who are in trouble in their school thanks to one of the villains’ underlings, for instance. The story scenes play out with limited interaction — you don’t just watch all the time and then finally play mahjong, but do make choices. There are two choice wheels at the bottom, with eight total options, but this is a simple game and trial and error will get you through even if you don’t know the language, fortunately; just keep trying options until something works and progresses the story. There is plenty of voice acting, which helps as well. The visuals are nice, too — the cutscene/adventure part of this game looks good for a regular-CD title. Once you get to a mahjong battle, your guy faces off one one one against the opponent. Yeah, this is 1-on-1 mahjong only, no full four-player games unfortunately. Also the game fills up a bit too much of the screen on my HDTV, so the bottom half of my tiles is cut off — very annoying! It does display the whole picture on my CRT, though; must have a smaller cut-off area around the screen (my HDTV is rear-projection and not new…). Also, if you are successful in the battles, there are some special options you can buy with points between rounds. The options are all in Japanese text, though, so good luck figuring out what they do. You can also transform into super mode, for a slight power boost I presume, but only do so if you have a good hand I would expect.

Beyond that though, this is a mahjong game. It is important to note that like most such games, this game game does NOT explain how to play. The manual has a several-page-long comic, some basic control and interface descriptions, and that’s it; nothing at all about how the game plays. You’d better already know how to play two-player mahjong. I don’t know the rules very well, and aren’t any good at memorizing what winning hands are, so I haven’t managed to win rounds of this game. I don’t know poker, and with more tiles in your hand and a great many complex rules, mahjong is a lot more complex than that game is to learn. This game will not help you with that in any way. I’ll return to this after I manage to learn some more about how to actually put winning hands together in this game. Overall though, with good visuals in the story scenes and okay mahjong action, this seems like a decent mahjong game. The system has a lot of them, though, so I have no idea how it compares to the others.

Jantei Monogatari II: Uchuu Tantei Deiban: Kanketsuhen (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Released a couple of months after the above title, this second volume of Jantei Monogatari II is very similar to the first, except with a few additions. Most importantly, the story is new, and you fight new opponents. Also, this game adds a Mahjong mode in addition to the main Story mode, if you want to go straight to the action and do some one-on-one fights against five opponents from the game. This is a welcome addition for sure. The interface graphics have also been improved a bit, particularly in the story scenes. The game does reuse a lot of animations from the first game, though; even though the story is new, the hero’s transformation scene, the overlong die-roll animation, etc. all are reused from the first volume. The gameplay is just the same as the first one, too, with no changes. The few improvements it has, though, put this as slightly better than the first volume of JM2.

Last Alert – One player, saves to system. Telenet’s Last Alert is a top-down run & gun action game. With many cutscenes, lots of levels, some variety in level designs along the way, and that the game saves your progress as you play, Last Alert is a pretty impressive game for 1990, when it released. The gmae also has fantastic controls — unlike many run & gun games from its time, this one has a strafe-lock button, so you can lock your firing direction with ease! It makes shooting easy. Controls are good, as well. The game has some flaws, though. Most notably, the voice acting in this NEC-published US release is absolutely abysmal, to a comical degree. Also, the graphics are small, there is no multiplayer, and the game is easy and sorely lacking in challenge. This game gets a fair amount of praise from Turbo fans, and it deserves some of it, but the downsides are real. In Last Alert you play as Guy Kazama, a muscular ’80s style action hero. You’re off to beat a series of villains who want to take over the world, naturally. The game has cutscenes between missions, with the usual Turbo CD-style barely-animated-scenes-with-voice, and conversations with each boss once you reach them. However, the story is generic action/spy movie stuff, and the voice acting really is awful. That bad voice acting is entertainingly bad at times, though, so there is that. Also while the story’s far from great, a game, or even movie, in this genre rarely does much more. Back in 1990, just having voiced story cutscenes in a game was a pretty big deal, of course. Now it’s not, but the story here is mostly fine. Gameplay is what matters the most in games, anyway, and the plot sets the scene for each of Guy Kazama’s exploits.

Last Alert has 23 levels spread across a sequence of missions. Each mission is made up of several levels, and sometimes you can choose the order you play a missions’ levels in. The game will also autosave after you complete a mission, which is great (it does not seem to save after each level, though.). Levels are reasonable length in Last Alert, and you get experience as you kill enemies. As you level up you’ll get more health and unlock more guns. However, as I said earlier, the game very rarely provides much challenge. I’m not the greatest at games, but I do not die very often in this game, that’s for sure. Honestly I find the game getting tedious after a while, thanks to the low difficulty level and long length of the game. Sure, the controls are great and wiping out the enemies is usually easy, but it’s often TOO easy. You can also often shoot through cars, which is weird. The games’ internal rules for which things you can shoot through and which you can’t don’t make much sense, and more obstacles to your fire probably would have been a good thing. And as with many TG16 games, like a NES or SMS game don’t expect to find any difficulty level options here, there are none. The game does have a few different level types, though. The variants don’t change much, but in this genre anything is nice. In most levels, you’re navigating through a fairly linear level, looking for the boss and wiping out the enemies along the way. A few missions have you instead “infiltrating” a base trying to rescue prisoners. Here, the amount of enemies you face depends on how often you shoot your gun. So, arm your machine gun and fire away if you want to face endless waves of respawning foes, or use the pistol and have an easy time of it. There are also some levels where you have to explore around an area, finding all of the bombs to disarm for example.

The basic gameplay of going around and shooting enemies as they appear never changes, though, and nor do those small graphics. HuCard games in this genre like Legend of the Valkyrie or even Bloody Wolf probably look better than this game. This game does show off its CD format by having a lot more levels than those games do, of course. The game also has a decent CD audio soundtrack. Overall, Last Alert is an okay game. The firing-lock button makes moving around and shooting where you want easy, and the game is plenty long and it is a fun game, at least for a while at a time. The game costs quite a bit more than the other Turbo CD topdown run & gun, Final Zone II and I don’t know if it’s a better game, though. Since it saves you don’t have to play the whole game all at once, though, unlike that game, and that’s great. Still, slightly bigger graphics and some difficulty level options would have gone a long way here. Still, Last Alert is reasonably good, overall. It’s worth a look for sure.

L-Dis (J exclusive) – One player. L-Dis, from NCS Masaya, is a hard cute ’em up-styled horizontal shmup. This game is reasonably well regarded I think, but isn’t one of the better-known Turbo CD shmups. For a regular CD title, though, this game looks and plays great. L-Dis has a very basic sexist videogame plot: you play as a boy who has to save the girl he likes, who has been kidnapped by aliens. Yeah, this plot again. Fortunately the game is a lot better than the story, though. You pilot a cute little ship, flying through six or so several-part levels on your quest. L-Dis is a very tough game, and beating it will take quite a bit of practice; I haven’t gotten even close yet, so far. If you run out of lives you can continue, but you start the whole level over, which is quite cruel when you’ve gotten to the final boss. Most levels do have obstacles to avoid, and of course the level designs get even tougher as you progress. The game has a powerup system of course, with floating powerups some enemies drop. There is a problem here, though: unlike almost all shmups, the powerups here are Japanese text boxes. So yeah, memorize which one is which, or else you’ll have problems getting what you want. It’s kind of annoying, but with some practice you will get used to it. The text color tells you which of the two different powerup types the powerup will give you, weapon or ship, so that’s a help. Weapon powerups give you different weapons, while the ship ones can give you helper ships (like Gradius Options), a shield, and and such. You can have a few (but limited) options, and have to choose between either option helpers or bombs which do nothing until you use them as screen-clearing superbombs. The weapon system works well, as long as you can figure out what you’re getting.

L-Dis is a pretty good looking game. The game does have some parallax scrolling, though not in every level. Still, on the Turbo, any parallax is great to see. Backgrounds are well-drawn as well, and the sprites are done in a nice cartoony style which looks quite good. The ships all have big eyes on them, which is a nice touch. The game makes use of the CD format to have some enemies, and the bosses, talk during your fights with them. It’s a nice addition and gives the game more personality. The music is good, fitting stuff as well. Overall, L-Dis has graphics and sound about as good as you can expect from a regular-CD title, and plays about as well as it looks, too. L-Dis is a hard game, but it’s well worth the effort, and I will definitely be going back to this one as I try to get farther. This is one of the better Turbo shmups I own, though it’s hard to choose when they’re almost all so good… but even so, it’s one of the better ones.

*The Legend of Xanadu (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system, Super CD game. This is another Super CD game, so I haven’t played it yet… and from what I’ve read about it, I’ll have a hard time once I do. The Legend of Xanadu, from 1994, is a later release on the system from Falcom, and it’s one part Ys I & II, one part Ys III, and one part confusing, apparently. This game has top-down Ys-style action with somewhat small sprites but actual fullscreen gameplay (unlike all previous Falcom games or ports of Falcom games on this system), along with side-scrolling levels that have nicer graphics. However, it also apparently has some pretty tricky puzzles which are very, very hard to figure out for those like me who don’t know Japanese — you need to talk to people then go to specific places at specific times, since this game has an ingame time system, in order for some things to happen. There is a partial walkthrough for the game, but it’s far from complete; hopefully someone works on it soon. Even if I don’t get oo far though, I’m very interested to play this game, since it looks pretty good. The gmae has a sequel, LoX II, which has some of the system’s best graphics. That one is apparently a lot shorter than this game (people say 30+ hours for this one, maybe half that for the sequel), but it sure looks nice. This game does have one thing that game doesn’t, though: it comes in a dual-jewel case, and comes with not just a slightly thicker manual, but also a map/poster that was one of the reasons why I got this. On one side, you have the poster with art for the game. It’s very ’90s anime-style stuff, but it’s kind of amusing. On the other side, there’s a map of the floor layouts for all of the floors of the apparently very tricky dungeon at the end of the game. That’d probably be very useful, once you get that far.

Legion (J exclusive) – Two player simultaneous. Legion is usually regarded as being one of the Turbo CD’s worst shmups, and it’s easy to see why. This game is not without any value, however. Legion is by Telenet, and was released the same year as Avenger. This game is a far cry from that great should-be-classic, however. Legion is a brutally hard, unforgiving game with average to subpar graphics and lacking music. This game is mostly for masochists and people who really want another two-player co-op shmup for the TG16/CD, since there are so few on the platform.

Legion is also interesting for having English-language voice acting telling the story. The art design is okay, and has that Telenet look to it, but clearly did not get the budget of even Avenger. This game doesn’t have parallax, of course. This cut-rate game has no actual cutscenes, but it does have audio logs from your ships’ pilot which play over the level, all voice acted by a native English speaker. Is he the same guy who did one of the voices in The Ninja Warriors on Sega CD? I’m not sure. Anyway though, the story is somewhat amusing, and some of the lines are weird. You’re a space pilot sent to defeat an enemy ship fleet threatening your planet. However, it comes at the cost of CD audio — this game has none! Instead, the actual soundtrack is chiptunes, and don’t sound as good as Turbo CD shmups usually do as a result; the TG16 can do some good music, but it doesn’t have one of the best audio chips of its time. Still, the music isn’t all bad. It’s very repetitive, but some of the songs are kind of catchy, such as the between-levels space map tune. Others are just annoying. Ah well.

As for the gameplay, this game is about trial and error above anything else. Sort of like Telenet’s Valis games, the enemies zoom in at you from off the screen, and if you’re in the wrong place you will get hit. As a result you will die, and die often, and hopefully memorize everything as you do so. This game is reasonable-length, too; this isn’t one of those 20-minute shmups. That will be the only way to survive this frustrating game. When I can manage to stay alive for a while the game can be fun at times, though. You do respawn where you were when you died, but those lives will go away quickly, and you have limited continues, so finishing this game is hard. You lose all of your powerups when you die, which in this game is a SERIOUS setback — you start out quite underpowered, and being reverted to nothing will surely cause more deaths. Try to avoid taking any hits, somehow! In order to add some replay value, the game does have some branching paths, where you can choose between multiple stages. That’s nice. In two player mode killing the enemies will be easier, but you share credits and environmental obstacles and hard-to-dodge enemy fire will still take you down sometimes, so the game is still hard. Overall, I don’t entirely hate Legion. The game has okay controls, decent graphics for its time, and certainly provides plenty of challenge. If you don’t mind frustratingly difficult games, go ahead and give Legion a try if you find it for quite cheap. Otherwise pass. I don’t regret buying it, since there is some fun to be had and sometimes I like a challenge, but it’s definitely not one of the better Turbo CD games.

Mateki Densetsu Astralius (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Astralius, from IGS, is a traditional-style JRPG that is pretty much hated by the few people outside of Japan who have played it. I got this as a part of a lot, and unfortunately, here the critics are right: this game isn’t good. I do like the graphics and story, though. Astralius has decently good graphics for its time, good-sized sprites for an RPG from 1991, and the art design and enemies look good enough, when you’re looking at them. The monsters could look better, but it’s not too bad. This game is no Square or Enix title, but it looks fine, much better than I expected given its reputation. The problems are almost everywhere else. First, load times in this game are long and very frequent. Every battle has a long load, and you can’t even see the enemies on screen at first, either — you only can look at them through a menu option, or after you’ve chosen your strategy for the round. Argh. Some people also dislike that the game does not retarget if a characters’ target dies before their turn, but I don’t mind that; the GBA Golden Sun games worked that way, and it was fine, and added some strategy. Still, the slow-paced battles, with their odd menus-only-while-selecting-moves design and load times, slow this game down to a crawl. Your movement speed on the overworld is far too slow as well, and the random battle encounter rate is very high. That is not a good combination, and gets me to either stop playing games, or stop trying to explore in games, which is awful since exploration should be one of the more fun things to do in this kind of game.

As for the story, Astralius uses the classic story concept of having a group of normal Earth people who are pulled into a fantasy world. In this case, you play as a musician guy, and your three musical group members are the other party members. No, not a rock band; the main character is a flutist, and the game starts on an ocean liner where you are supposed to entertain the guests, before you get sucked into another world of course. In the other world, you naturally turn out to be the hero who will have to save the world, as expected. You’ll eventually gain music-based magic attacks for each character, fitting with the games’ theme. The game has a few cutscenes, and some voice acting, but also plenty of text of course. Use the walkthrough (…pc-engine.html ) if you don’t know Japanese, it’s essential. Or just don’t play the game. I haven’t gotten too far into this one, and can’t see myself sticking with it long enough to finish it, but I will get at least a bit farther, I think; I’m not too far into it, and while it definitely is frustrating and I’m sure I’ll lose patience with it eventually, I do at least like the basic story. That “modern person pulled into another world” setup is a good one, and it’s one only infrequently seen in RPGs.

Pomping World (J ver.) [aka Buster Bros.] – Two player simultaneous. Pomping World, or Buster Bros., is a port by Hudson of Capcom’s arcade game of the same name. This game has a US release as ‘Buster Bros. Collection’, but I have the Japanese version because the game is the same and this was cheaper. The original arcade game was called Pang in Europe, so the game has a different name in each region. From the second game in this series on, in Japan the series also took on the “Pang” name, but here it stayed “Buster Bros.”. So yeah, why that title, “Pomping World”? I have no idea. Whatever you call it, though, this game is decent fun. I don’t love this game, but it’s alright to good. Buster Bros. is a single-screen shooting/platform game. Unlike a lot of single-screen platformers from this era, though, this game is nothing like Bubble Bobble. Instead, it’s more of a shmup. Each of the players — and yes, that this game has two player co-op is awesome — can move around the bottom of the screen, or up ladders to higher platforms if there are ladders in the stage in question. Each level is just one screen, but there are 17 stages full of levels and limited continues so the game is plenty long. The attacks in this game are unique: you can only shoot straight up. The enemies in this game are bouncing balls, which get smaller as you shoot them, but much like Asteroids, as they shrink they also break into multiple parts. Instead of a gun, your default weapon is more of a grappling hook gun, or something — if it hits the ceiling or a platform above you, it creates a rope which will damage an enemy (ball) if the ball bounces into it. This will destroy the rope and let you fire again. However, when one of those is out, you can’t shoot, so be careful with your placement! Also, since you have to stand under or right in front of enemies to hit them, the game requires quite a bit of risk, and can be frustrating when you’re down to a few tiny balls which aren’t bouncing very high, giving you very little margin for error. This is a one hit and you die game. There are some weapon powerups that can make things a bit easier, but you still fire upwards only. That’s what makes this game unique, but I do find it kind of annoying sometimes, and I wish I could shoot sideways too. Ah well, you do get used to it. The game has a variety of backgrounds as you progress, and new obstacles and trickier stage layouts appear as you get farther. The basic gameplay stays the same, though. Overall this is a decently fun game, but I do have some issues with the design (always firing up only, most importantly), and there’s no enemy variety either, just lots of balls, balloons, or whatever they are. I also dislike how you can get stuck sometimes if you didn’t do things right in a level. Still, the game can be addictive and definitely is a solid and mostly well-designed challenge, and the two player co-op is pretty cool as well. I can see why this game was successful enough to get a couple of sequels, though they didn’t come to this system. The first three Buster Bros. games were all included in the Buster Bros./Pang Collection for the PS1. All three titles are also included in the Capcom Puzzle World collection on PSP, along with Super Puzzle Fighter II and one other game. There are also European ports of this game on some computers (Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, PC, and Atari ST). There is a SNES port of the second Buster Bros. title, but not the first. I haven’t played that one.

*Prince of Persia – One player, saves to system, Super CD. I haven’t played this yet (Super CD…), but as for PoP in general, it’s not a game I played much of at all as a kid, and I haven’t gone back to it much either. The game seems okay, but that time limit… maybe I’ll try this one someday and actually play PoP for once, I don’t know.

*Puyo Puyo CD (J exclusive) – Two player simultaneous, Super CD. Haven’t played this yet either, but Puyo Puyo is a pretty good series.

Ranma 1/2 (J exclusive) – One player, password save. Ranma 1/2, by NCS Masaya, is a side-scrolling action-platformer beat ’em up game with lots of cutscenes. The game is based on the first season of the classic anime, and many scenes from the anime appear in this game. Or, well, a few do — this game is quite short, in terms of actual content. The game tries to make up for that with long cutscenes and a steep difficulty level, and while that adds frustration, it does work; while this game would be excessively short if you got through it all without dying and skipped the cutscenes, it feels longer thanks to how many times I have to replay each level until I beat it. The cutscenes are entertaining and fun, too. I really liked the Ranma 1/2 anime, so even though this is in Japanese I have a solid idea of what’s going on — there’s nothing new here, it’s all based on stuff from the show. For those who don’t know, Ranma 1/2 is an action/comedy manga and anime from Rumiko Takahashi about a martial artist boy, Ranma, who turns into a girl when water is poured on him. There’s a silly cast of characters, some of which can also turn into other forms when doused with water, his love interest Akane, and more. The anime was very successful and lasted a long time, and I’ve watched almost all of it. In the game you play as Ranma, sometimes only in boy form, sometimes only in girl form, and sometimes, in levels with water present, in either form. Girl Ranma is faster and can jump higher but doesn’t do as much damage, so they are different, which is good. In a nice touch, in levels where you can transform back and forth, the game actually changes the end-level cutscene depending on Ranma’s gender, so you will see the scene with girl Ranma if you’re female, or boy Ranma if you’re male. I wasn’t expecting that, but it’s there! Of course as usual the cutscenes are mostly static, but that’s the best they could do here.

Gameplay is simplistic. In each level or section of a level, you either walk to the right while avoiding obstacles (if there are any) and beating up the enemies which come at you, or do a 1-on-1 fight against a single opponent from the show in a smaller arena. The first type of level generally are short, and don’t go on for very long. These generally seem to be the easier part of the game, at least earlier on that is; they do get harder. The 1-on-1 fights, however, can be hard right from the start. You’ll have to learn the controls well in order to win, since your opponent has more health than you do, and if it’s a fight in a level which also has a first section against normal enemies, you might enter with only partial health. The controls and hit detection are not too well thought through. Essentially, you only hit a specific distance forward with each hit, so you can cheese some enemies by standing on them, jumping up, and doing the “land on head” kick, for instance. And time your high kicks (down+attack) well, because they only hit at a certain distance. In better games you would not have these problems, but Ranma games were not exactly all great — the first few SNES Ranma games are no better than this either. Lose a life and you start at the fight again, but at game over it’s back to the start of the stage. You have infinite continues, but if you choose game over instead, you’ll get your password for the level. These passwords are in the form of a head, body, and legs of various Ranma characters, with three parts each from a different character, so they’re kind of annoying because they’re purely visual. Identifying some of the characters from just their legs can be tricky. I had to memorize what the part looked like then go scrolling through the password screen sometimes, because there it’s easy to tell which part goes with which. Couldn’t they have just supported saving to the system? At least this is better than not having saving, though! This game may be short, but it can be frustrating and I’m happy to not have to replay all the levels every time. Overall, this game really is only for side-scrolling beat ’em up fans and Ranma fans. I don’t like side-scrolling beat ’em ups all that much, but I do like Ranma, so I like this game despite its serious flaws. It’s fun to play a Ranma game which goes through the first and best season of the anime, and the game is playable even if it’s not the greatest. I also like that this is a sidescroller, considering how very few of those there are on the regular Turbo CD. Non-fans may not like this game, though, I would guess. But I think it’s alright. It’s flawed, annoying at times, and could be a lot better, but despite that I find it at least a little bit fun.

Record of Lodoss War (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Published by Hudson, Record of Lodoss War is an RPG based off of the popular anime series of the same name. This game may be an anime license, but it’s a big, ambitious game. This game comes in a dual-jewel case, and has a decent-sized manual and a nice spell list/poster as well in the box. The poster is a quite nice image of Deedlit, but that spell list on the other side is also useful (particularly if you know Japanese). Unfortunately, it’s also got a lot of language issues for those like me who don’t speak Japanese. I have watched, and mostly liked, the Lodoss War anime, but apart from the characters, that isn’t much help here; the basic setup is somewhat similar, but the game itself is very different from the anime. So, you play as Parn, a human warrior type guy who will of course end up saving the world. You will eventually gather together a party of six, all of them from the party in the anime. I haven’t gotten nearly that far, but I have played it enough to figure out the basic menus, which took a while because of all the language issues. This game is more complex than Astralius, and doesn’t have any kind of guide online, either; hopefully someone makes one sometime, because some help, particularly for where to go, is badly needed! This game is not linear, you can wander all over the map. If you don’t know Japanese, you won’t be able to read the people telling you where you should be heading, so you’ll end up just randomly wandering around, fighting random battles, until you bump into the right place. That does not sound like much fun. This game has constant loading, too. Loading for menus, loading for the camp screen, loading into and out of each battle, etc. This game is already slow, and the loading slows down the pace even more, that’s for sure. This is a slow, slow game. You’ll need patience for this one.

Fortunately, the battle system is fairly good, and the game has some great music as well. The graphics aren’t as good; this game has small sprites in the overworld, and even Astralius looks better. The art design is good, but everything is small in both the overworld and battles. Battle screens are very bland visually apart from the sprites, as well. Also, as with most of Falcom’s TGCD games, the game plays in a bordered window; there’s a border around the viewing area, and your characters’ stats are permanently on the right side of the screen, as well. The play window is larger than it is in many Falcom games, but still, I wish it was fullscreen. I believe this games’ sequel is, which sounds good. The towns are done as static images, though, instead of regular explorable “JRPG towns”, so they look better; the static-image art in the cutscenes and towns is done well. In the town you have a little map letting you choose which place you want to go to, and then once you go to a location that place appears on the screen. In the first town, there’s a town square where you can access the menu, several houses you can go to to talk to people, a temple where you get Parn’s first ally, Etoh the priest. Then it’s best to go to the market to buy Parn some equipment and get some healing items. Etoh starts with equipment, but Parn doesn’t. In the market, there are six sellers to buy from. The bottom one sells items, of which there are four kinds in the game. The first one heals your LP (health), the second heals your MP (magic), and I’m not sure yet about the other two but I assume at least one is a resurrection item. The five weapon/armor sellers are trickier to buy from, since the game only tells you who can equip each item and not what it is. Either try to translate stuff yourself, or save beforehand and try stuff out until you find what you need then load and buy the right thing, I think. The third menu option on the weapon/armor sellers’ list lets you equip things, and the last lets you give equipment to other party members — handy things to have there. While I wish that the game showed what type of weapon or armor each item is, I do like that the shops at least tell you who can equip each piece; that is handy. Newer games usually also tell you how it’d change your character stats, but this game doesn’t have that unfortunately. At least it has something.

As for the camp pause or town square menu, the first tier of this menu has a heal/item view option as the top option, go to Camp screen as the second option, and change party order as the third option. In the Camp screen, it shows how much of each of the four items you have and your money total on the screen. You can save in this menu at any time, so you don’t need to go back to town or something — very handy! This makes the game playable, I think. I strongly prefer RPGs to let you save anywhere when not in battle, and this game does. Just know that Save is the THIRD option on that screen; the second is Load. Don’t mix them up. The first option is Equip, I’m not sure what the fourth does yet, the fifth and last is for battle options. I don’t know what they do. In battle, the game goes to a top-down map of the single-screen battle area. Instead of your standard “you stand on opposite sides of the screen and hit eachother” battles, Lodoss War have a strategy element, as you can move around the battle area at will. Very nice! I always have preferred strategic battles to just plain “stand on opposite sides” stuff. The pathfinding for movement is sometimes iffy, and the game doesn’t tell you movement ranges, but you’ll get used to it. It’s kind of like Lunar, except you can tell people to move to a specific point on the field, something not possible in those games. Like Lunar though, the parties generally start out out of range for melee attackers, so you’ve got to move first. I like it better this way. Those tiny sprites are kind of hard to make out much detail on, though… ah well. At least they are well drawn. In the battle menu, the top option goes to the attack menu. Below that (in order) you can change your character turn order, ???, use auto-battle (note: you can’t disable this once selected until the battle ends!), go to that battle options screen here too, or last run away. Once you choose to attack you can use your normal weapon to attack the selected enemy (you will move towards them automatically if out of range), move to a selected spot, use a spell or item (menu: spell, item, item? Not sure what that last one does, yet.), or defend. Each character has different spells, so try them out and figure out what they do. Enemies can take a little while to kill, but they, or you, will go down eventually.

Naturally, being an old RPG, this game is all about fighting lots and lots of battles. Save often, because this game is hard; I’ve gotten killed not too far from the first town. You basically have to grind right from the start… argh. If this wasn’t a Lodoss War game, I’m not sure if I’d try; sure this game is good, but it’s not usually a kind of game I stick with, grindey top-down old RPGs that is. But it is, so yeah, I will play this more, until I run into a wall of not knowing where to go, I imagine. Overall though, while the graphics aren’t the greatest, the gameplay here is solid. The game has a fairly good battle system, a large world to explore, and more, and it’s mostly playable once I figured out the menus, too; the main issue is just not knowing where to go. Even just a basic guide telling you where to go at each point would be fantastic… I want one! Ah well. Even as it is though, for Lodoss or classic RPG fans, this game is definitely worth a look, and shouldn’t cost much either. The game has a sequel, which is on the Turbo Super CD, and is different from the other Lodoss games at the time on Japanese computers and the Sega CD.

Road Spirits (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Road Spirits, from Arc System Works (then Arc Co.), is a good-looking but sadly vapid racing game. This game was clealry inspired by Outrun, as just in Outrun you drive towards the horizon in a “scaler-style” linescroll racing game. You have several sports cars to choose from, and there are over a dozen tracks in this game beginning to end so it will take a good while. The graphics are quite good, as well. The menus and interface look decent, the game saves your best time on each track (nice!), the cars are large, the environments beautiful, and trackside objects are present as well. There are very, very few racing games on the Turbo CD, and this is just about the only behind-the-car one (apart from the scattered racing bits in Zero 4 Champ II, this is about it I think), but visually it makes a good impression. The music is pretty good as well, and is nicely varied. I like it. The gameplay, however, is seriously lacking. Specifically, this game is brain-dead easy. Your only opponent in this game is the clock; other cars are just traffic to avoid, and avoiding them is not difficult. Staying on the road is just as easy, as it won’t be until almost the end of the game that you finally reach tracks that even begin to challenge in terms of the actual turns! Most of the game consists of about two minute long races that are absent of any serious chance of failure. You’re given plenty of time, and the track won’t turn beyond your ability to easily respond. There aren’t any difficulty level options in this game either, of course. It’s really sad, because the game could have really been something, but by making the game so excessively easy, it makes this game kind of hard to recommend. It’s a cheap game though — import-only, but cheap — so it might be worth a pickup because of how few racing games there are on this system, and for something easy to play through sometime you want to play a game but not actually have any chance of losing. I just wish that they had made the game a bit tougher. Something in between this and the extreme challenge of Victory Run (TG16) would be perfect, I think. That’d probably be Outrun, but OutRun (HuCard) costs a lot more than this game does. Anyway, Road Spirits is okay, I guess, but could have been a lot better if it wasn’t near-impossible to lose.

Rom Rom Stadium (J exclusive) – Two player simultaneous, saves to system. This is a baseball game from NCS Masaya, and sadly it’s not a very good one. Rom Rom Stadium is an early TCD release, and it shows: like most of the earlier HuCard baseball games on the system, this has a strictly overhead view and looks barely improved over NES titles visually, too much of the time. The sprites are very small, and the field is too. There also isn’t a full season mode here, just a pennant-chase as you try to beat the other teams with the one you select. At least the game will save your progress between games. You can also create your own custom team, and load it to another persons’ game by a ridiculously long (like, hundred-plus-letter) password you can view… though with passwords that long, it’s not worth it. The teams in this game are based on the real Japan League baseball teams, but I doubt it has a real license so it’s just clone teams. I love baseball, and it is interesting to see what has to be one of the first ever CD-based baseball games, though, so I do find the game kind of interesting, even if objectively it’s definitely a bad game. The graphics are only the first problem with this game. It also barely makes use of its CD medium, and the baseball mechanics are flawed as well. The only things reminding you that this is on a CD are clearer voice samples than you’d find on a cart or card game, some little “cutscenes” where an anime-style girl wearing various outfits, who is watching your game on TV, cheers or criticizes you during and after games (depending on how well your team is doing), and… well, that’s about it. There are no cutscenes here apart from those bits with the girl.

As for the gameplay, the game has the overhead field view, and a behind-the-batter view for the pitcher/batter duel. Once you manage to get the timing down to hit the ball, the main problem is that runners are much faster than the ball. Good luck trying to keep people from getting, or staying, on base… the computer may do fine at it, but human players will find that difficult. There is no field indicator as later top-down baseball games have, either, so you’ll just have to watch the ball to figure out where it’s going. Good luck trying to line up fielders who are off the screen with the ball flying towards them… or getting ground balls that get past your infielders, since who knows where the outfielders are. I don’t care for those later top or isometric view with minimap baseball games much either — Hardball III (PC/Genesis) completely spoiled me and I just can’t get used to any other kind of classic baseball game — but those games are at least a lot better than this. So, yeah, this game is challenging, and the computer probably cheats. It does make some mistakes, such as frequently throwing away the ball while trying to throw to first, though… but that’s more bad than good, when you think about it, because of how stupid it is. Exploit this anyway, though, because scoring in this game can be tough. Find a human to play against if you want to have “fun”, and even then the slow ball will annoy both of you, and the ugly graphics won’t impress anyone. Rom Rom Stadium may be one of, or maybe the, first CD-based baseball games, but that doesn’t make it good.

Shanghai II (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system (scores/settings), passwords (for direct access to puzzle layouts). Shanghai II, by Hudson, is the second version of this classic solitaire game using the Mahjoing tileset. It’s a good game with outstanding music but limited variety. I first played Shanghai clones on the PC back in the late ’90s, and it’s a great fun concept which can be challenging. There are four of each tile type somewhere in the field, except for special tiles like the dragons, flowers, and such, which you match with the others in their category. With a little practice you get used to what is what. The game works by matching similar tiles, but you can only remove tiles which have a fully uncovered (not touching another tile) left or right side; tiles in between other tiles cannot be touched. Because the tile patterns have multiple layers, luck is a huge factor in this game; losses will not always be your fault, there’s no way to know what is underneath the stacks. Of course, card games always have a luck factor, and mahjong tiles are essentially the same thing as cards in terms of function. This game has six different board layouts, each named for a different animal, and each one has probably a thousand possible tile layouts within it. Later Shanghai games have many more than six board layouts, and add new game modes, multiplayer, and more, but this is one of the earlier ones, so it doesn’t have any of that. The Saturn and Game Boy/GB Color Shanghai games I have do have those options (I review both in their respective system summaries), so I wasn’t sure if I would really find this game worthwhile because of how much less content it has than those games. Well, it is. The graphics are simple but effective, but I really have to say how incredible this games’ music is! I read that the Turbo CD Shanghai games (Shanghai III also has a TCD release) have great music, and that is absolutely true. Even if the gameplay here is lacking options and features compared to newer games like this, the music is so great that I’ve been playing game a lot, and surely will continue to.

The basic gameplay here is classic Shanghai done well, and that’s good. The game has four different tileset options, though it doesn’t have the number or symbol options you commonly see in newer Shanghai titles and clones; all four in this game are standard Mahjong characters only. I recommend the fourth one, since it has some color, which really helps differentiate the tiles. I also would hightly recommend using the fastest cursor speed; in the timed game, every second counts. There is also a difficulty level option, but Easy is hard enough, I haven’t tried the harder ones. Once you choose your options, the only other thing to do is start the game. The game sends you to the Tiger board first, but you can access any of the six from the menu, which you open by hitting Start. The middle menu is the board select. The names there are in Japanese, but once you choose a board it says the name in English on the table, so it’s easy to figure out.). The lefthand menu lets you take back a turn or reset the board. Again the menu is in Japanese, but it’s no problem. The righthand menu lets you start the timed challenge game (top option), view your high scores in timed mode, or enter a password to go to a specific table layout. There is no scorekeeping in the main game, unfortunately, only timed mode. Newer Shanghai games or clones would keep track of your best scores whether or not you won the game, but this game is more basic. It is disappointing, but at least the timed game has a leaderboard, and that high score table is saved to the system. The timed game is quite difficult, as the time limit is tight and finishing each table before you run out of time will be a real challenge. Also, actually getting a good score will be even harder, given how much luck is involved in this game. Takebacks are limited too, so you can’t just take back every mistake. You can retry tables if you fail, but your score resets if you do so, so the only way to really beat the game would be to complete all six tables without any failures. After completing each table, there’s a simple but nice little congratulations scene, slightly different for each tables’ animal. I haven’t managed to beat all six in one go yet, it’s quite hard. I’ll keep trying for sure, though! As for the passwords, the first two digits set the table (TI for tiger, etc.), the next is difficulty I believe, and the last group is the table layout. This lets you access any of the many, many variants, if there’s some specific one you want to try; by default the game randomizes which one you see. Overall, Shanghai II is great, and I love it. The featureset may be limited, but what’s here is done very well. Other versions of Shanghai II are on plenty more platforms, but none have this versions’ awesome soundtrack. I’ll have to get Shanghai III for Turbo CD (the first game wasn’t on CD, just HuCard, or Sega Master system, for console releases). The third game looks like it has a lot of nice additions.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – One player, saves to system. See my Sega CD summary of this game — this is the exact same Icom FMV-heavy detective game as that one, just on Turbo CD instead of Sega CD. This was the first console port of the game. Yes, Sega was so desperate for a game with video in it that they included as a packin with their new Sega CD a third-party game which had already been released on the competitions’ system the previous year. The Sega CD version changed the graphics some, and might look slightly better, but the gameplay is the same, and overall the visuals are just a bit different, more than anything. This version looks decent, just about as okay as the Sega CD version. Unfortunately this means that the video is very low quality and plays in a small window. I was hoping that maybe the higher-color Turbo CD could put some more colors in its video, but if it does, I can’t really tell. Ah well. I guess it was probably hard enough to manage to squeeze video playback into the regular TCD’s 64KB of RAM. Unlike the Sega CD, the Turbo CD has very, very few games with live action video in them, since most such games, including this one, were Western-developed and the Turbo CD of course was quite the failure here. As such, while the game isn’t the most exciting thing, it does stand out more on the Turbo CD, which has so very few games with live-action video, versus the Sega CD. As for the gameplay though, this is a video adventure game. You watch videos, read newspaper articles, book segments, and the like, and slowly try to figure out what is going on in each of the three cases on the disc. You can’t pick up items in this game, but instead have to figure out who to talk to or where in London to go at each point in the case. Time matters, as the faster you finish the case the better your score at the end, but along the way this is a slow-paced game which requires careful reading and viewing in order to uncover the truth in each case. The game can be fun, once you get into it and take your time. I did enjoy trying to figure out what had happened. However, there is almost no replay value since each case is always the same, so this game won’t take long. Still, this is an okay game. Also on PC (DOS), Sega CD, and iOS/Mac/PC (Win6+). The latter three releases are a modern re-release with better video quality than the old ones.

Side Arms Special (J exclusive) – One player. Side Arms Special is an enhanced CD edition of the TG16 HuCard version of this NEC-developed console port of Capcom’s arcade horizontal shmup Hyper Dyne Side Arms. This game was an early release for the CD system, and it shows, but it is a pretty interesting game even so. The HuCard version got a US release, but this CD edition did not. Side Arms is one of Capcom’s shmups which lets you fire in multiple directions. First was Section Z, then Side Arms, and then last Forgotten Worlds. Forgotten Worlds lets you rotate and fire in any direction, but this game is simpler: I fires right, and II fires left. It’s simple, and it works. Just make sure to turn up both of those turbo switches for this one, most of the time, it’s needed. When you die you respawn right where you were in the main game, but have almost no invincibility so one death will often become three, or five, before you recover. That’s painful, when you’re only given two continues to complete the game with. Memorization is key! I’ll go into more detail about the original mode in this game when I do a TG16 summaries thread, but Side Arms is a great shooter with a few annoying issues. The game has five different weapons, and in the main game you can switch between them on the pause screen. Apparently in the arcade game you are just stuck with the last weapon you got, but here they improved things by letting you switch. The three-way gun and shotgun are my favorites, though the MBL is best against most bosses. There are hidden powerups, so shoot the walls and memorize their locations! These include point orbs, extra lives, and most importantly the super-mode powerup. When you get that, an orange ship (the player 2 ship from the arcade game) come in and merge with your ship to form one stronger unit. Now you’re in robot form, and shoot eight shots at all angles with every shot you fire. This will last until you get hit and lose the powerup, and the extra shots will really help keep you alive so try to avoid that. Normal powerups appear from one specific enemy type, and give you more weapons and increase their power; change the pickup by shooting the powerups to cycle through the options. Note that POW actually increases your ship speed, not weapon power. Odd choice of words there, that confused me for quite some time. The reverse POW decreases your speed. Apart from the respawn problems, this is a very good game. The game feels a bit lacking in color, but the arcade game looks the same way, so this is just being accurate to the original. Unfortunately the original arcade game’s two player mode is absent in both TG16/CD releases. Another issue is that the bosses repeat a lot — you’ll fight the same three or four bosses over and over, until finally you reach a new boss at the end of the game. Ah well, it’s fun anyway, and I did finally manage to beat the HuCard version of this game earlier this year (in 2013). I do like that bosses have health bars on the screen, it’s very handy. When compared to the HuCard version of the game, there are two major changes in the CD version. As in Daisenpuu Custom, there aren’t any cutscenes in this game, despite it being on a disc. There is a CD audio soundtrack though, and it is a great CD-audio version of the games’ music. It’s very cool to hear CD versions of the songs.

The other addition is even more interesting: in addition to a perfect (exept for the added load times and change to CD audio) copy of the HuCard game, there is also a second game mode available, called B.C. mode. In B.C. mode, the levels are shorter but harder, since in this mode you are sent back when you die; no respawn-where-you-died this time. While the levels are cut up versions of the original modes’ levels, the enemies in B.C. mode are mostly new designs, and the bosses are all new here. The weapon-switch and boss fight mechanics are different this time as well. You cannot switch weapons at will in this version; instead, you’re simply stuck with whatever weapon you last pick up. Instead of shooting the powerup orbs to change their powerup, they will now cycle between the different options automatically. This is as much good as bad, as it can take a while to cycle. There are only four weapons in B.C. mode, and all four are new. The best one feels like a hybrid of the shotgun and 3-way laser from the original mode, as it has the shotguns’ short range and many shots, but does not destroy enemy bullets, unlike the original mode shotgun but like the other weapons. There is again a straight laser as well, and a weird ball shot which rebounds forward and back. I think the original game has stronger weapons, but some of these are interesting. The powered-up robot mode is gone, and with it the 8-way helper fire as well. Instead, you can pick up some helper ships, which will protect you from hits (that is, act like a limited shield) and shoot out a bit, Gradius Options-style. Keeping these is important, as they’re your only hope for staying alive later on in the game. As for the bosses, bosses in B.C. mode do not have health bars anymore, so you’ll just have to shoot them until they die. They are more varied than in the original mode, though, which is good, and once again all of the boss designs here are new. You have to fight these bosses differently from the original mode bosses, though: B.C. mode bosses will only take damage from charge shots, not any normal fire! You’ll have to charge up and fire at their weak points to hurt them. This can be quite difficult by the later levels, and as a result B.C. mode, while being shorter than the original mode, is much more difficult. With new enemies, new weapons, new bosses, and perhaps slightly altered background graphics too, though, this is a very interesting game that any Side Arms or classic shmup fan should play! Despite the wealth of shmups on this system, Side Arms Hyper Dyne is a fantastic game and is one of the better US-released HuCard shmups. On CD it may not stand out quite as much, but the B.C. mode is great and makes this game definitely worth a purchase, whether or not you have other versions of Sidearms. No other version has B.C. mode in it, after all. The original Sidearms is on arcade and PS2/Xbox in one of the Capcom Classic Collection discs, but the TG16 version is TG16/TCD only, and B.C. mode is TCD exclusive.

Splash Lake – Two player simultaneous, saves to system. Splash Lake is a puzzle-action game, and it’s nice looking and plays great too. In this interesting title from NEC (and distributed by TTI in the US, since this was a later 1992 release here apparently), you play as a pair of cute, cartoony, legless ostriches which for some reason have to walk… er, bounce, rather… over floating pathways infested with hordes of monsters. This game is entirely playable in two player co-op, which is really awesome! One button jumps and the other button pecks. You can jump one or two spaces forward, but as you’re an ostrich, you can’t fly of course. You can defeat the monsters by pecking the bridge’s floor tiles. There are two main types of tiles, bridge pillar tiles and bridge floor tiles. Pillar tiles cannot be pecked, and will always be on the map. Floor tiles, however, can be destroyed. When you peck a bridge tile once, it cracks. Once you have cracked all tiles in an area which touch a solid tile, cracked two tiles next to eachother, or cracked enough tiles to cut off an area from the rest of the level, that area of the bridge will collapse, sending anyone on it into the water, both player or enemy. After a couple of seconds, the dropped bridge will reappear. Early enemies are easy enough to drop into the water with simple traps by pecking tiles behind an enemy and then waiting for them to approach you. Later on, however, enemies will get trickier, gain their own limited flight, and even require you to peck out long stretches of bridge all at once in order to kill them. There is also a boss at the end of each of the games’ six 10-level worlds. As a result, the game has a good difficulty curve, starting easy but gradually getting more challenging as you go along. Even so, 60 levels isn’t that long, and the game may seem to be short. However, there are two full additional hidden 60-level sets in this game! Yeah, they should have unlocked each after beating the previous, or told you abot this in the manual, but the only hint to their existence is a cryptic line in the story section: “We can even discoer items hidden behind teh pillar which will be a bonus point for both of us.” “Behind the pillar”? Huh? That’s not a very useful clue! How it works is that in order to unlock the second set of levels, you have to find the hidden fruit in each level in the first set. You find this by pecking three times on each bridge pillar until you find the one with the hidden fruit in it, and picking it up. Do that again in the second set of levels, and you unlock at third and final one. It’s great that there is more to this game, because Splash Lake is pretty good and can be a lot of fun. The game saves your progress as you go, unlocking levels in the level select as you reach them. Your best scores and options are also saved.

Splash Lake has a lot of options, on that note. You can choose from four ostrich colors, two bridge-drop types (all at once or one tile at a time), the number of lives per game (3 to 10; you have infinitne continues of course, but this matters if you’re playing for score!), whether you have 3 hit points per life or one (the game is much harder with one hit deaths!), whether you can pass through the other player in two player games or if you have to jump over them, how much time you get per level (the default is generous), the background color and bridge pattern, music on/off, and finally whether you want to view the amusing little in-between-area “ostrich theater” scenes which appear after you beat each boss. They’re all silly and amusing, so don’t turn them off, I would say. The options menu is great, I like being able to choose the menu background color and ostrich color. The music in the game is reasonably good as well. This isn’t one of the most memorable soundtracks around, but it’s a light, fun soundtrack that perfectly fits this kind of game. However, the CD audio is pretty much the only reason why this game is on a disc. Unless the game data takes up more than 8KB, which may or may not be the case, this game otherwise would be fine on a HuCard — there aren’t any videos, voice acting, real cutscenes, or anything in this game. Just fun gameplay. However, the good music is good enough excuse to put this on a disc, I think. Overall, Splash Lake is a pretty good game which I highly recommend anyone with a Turbo CD should track down! The game is great with either one or two players, and has lots of levels too if you find the hidden fruits. The game has a US release, too, which I have; it shouldn’t cost too much, for a Turbo CD game, but there’s also the import version of course. Either way, play Splash Lake, it’s good.

Super Albatross (J exclusive) – Super Albatross is an early CD golf game. By Telenet’s Laser Soft division, Super Albatross tries to use its CD format well, but has some seriously questionable gameplay mechanics. I generally find golf games very boring and almost never play them, but I was willing to give this one a try after looking at how it wasn’t just a golf game, but also has a story mode with cutscenes and everything. There are several modes in this game, including a single game on one of the courses in the game against several human or computer opponents, solo practice, or the story mode. In practice or single game modes, you can play as any of a variety of characters. In the story mode, though, you play as the guy on the cover. The intro cutscene explains his tragic past; the voice acting may be in Japanese, but it’s easy enough to see what’s going on. As usual animation is limited, but I like the effort — golf games did not have things such as this back then! Even now, a full character story mode in a sports game is uncommon, I think. The story explains how our hero’s sister (I think) dies of something or other, so he’s taking up his golf club to continue what she started… or something. I haven’t gotten past the intro, because this game is hard and I’m awful at golf games. One of the playable characters in single game/practice mode is a cyborg, so later on this game must go in a sci-fi direction.

But as I said, this game is not quite a normal golf game. Unfortunately, that isn’t a good thing. As with most golf games from the 1980s, this is a strictly top-down game, and does not have a behind-the-character viewpoint like most later golf games have. The graphics are okay, but apart from using more colors, this isn’t too much of a step over what the NES can do. In that respect this isn’t much different from other early HuCard golf games on the TG16. What is different is how you hit the ball in this game. Normally, golf games have a meter. You press the button several times with the right timing in order to swing. In this game though, there’s no meter; instead, how hard you press the button down determines how hard you hit. Yes, really, and it doesn’t work very well because without a meter, hitting the ball precisely, as is of course required, is quite difficult. It will take quite some time to get used to exactly how hard tyou have to press the button in order to go each distance you need. There is some essential help for this in the manual: the back cover of the manual shows you the maximum hitting distance each of the characters in the game will get with each club type. You’ll need the manual for this, because this is not told to you ingame, but have the manual and use that chart if you want to hit the ball the distance it needs to go! It’s the only way to have a chance. I couldn’t find anything of note about how this game plays online in English, but yes, this is how it works. Overall I can’t really say what I think of this game because I’m awful at golf games in general, but the odd, simplified control scheme makes me think that it probably isn’t exactly some lost classic. I do like the inclusion of a story mode, though.

Ultra Box vol. 6 (J exclusive) – One player, some games save to system (see below). Ultra Box was a digital magazine series. I think this is the last ‘issue’, unfortunately; it’s interesting. Really though, while it calls itself a magazine, this is more of a mini-game collection, or magazine cover disc but full of of original content instead of demos. The disc has five games on it, plus a variety of extra stuff. I’ll cover each of the games separately. All games are one player only though, so I won’t list that each time. They are all surely short games, though the length varies somewhat from title to title.
Jangken & Fairies – Saves to system. This game is a rock-paper-scissors RPG. Rock-paper-scissors is called “jangken” in Japanese, and I believe you have to rescue some fairies, so the title is descriptive. This game looks like a very basic NES-esque early TG16 RPG, as you start in a town and are on a quest, except you do rock paper scissors for battles. Yeah, it’s weird like that.
Alice in Flagland – Saves to system. This menu-based adventure game stars a girl named Alice in a weird somewhat Alice in Wonderland-themed world. The game plays like Snatcher, so you don’t move a cursor around, but instead just select options from the menu. The game is entirely in Japanese, of course, so I didn’t get far before hitting a game over screen, but there are amusing pictures and some voice clips that made me want to keep going anyway. I imagine this game isn’t that long, but it’d probably be fun if you know the language. And yeah, it’s weird!
Dokikoki Driveland – No saving. This is a little minigame of sorts, and is shorter than the three main games on the disc (above and below). This game is a topdown racing game, and it’s a pretty fun one; I wish there was a full game based on this engine, but I don’t think there is. This game is also a bit “ecchi”, in that if you’re successful in the game eventually the two girls on the games’ title screen will remove their clothes one piece at a time. The game is a timetrial title, so you have a set, tight time limit to get through each course. It’s tough, short, and fun.
“Henai” Lecture – No saving? This is a little dating sim/quiz game, I believe. I can’t get anywhere in it, given that it’s a game where you have to answer questions in Japanese, but you control some guy who seems to be trying to date a girl, maybe? Anyway, a girl is asking you questions. Given that ‘Henai” is in the title, I imagine that it’s some kind of love-related thing. I don’t know though.
Cusuto Special – Saves to system. Cusuto Special is probaby the longest game on this disc; I played it for maybe an hour, but didn’t finish the game. This game starts with a long, fully-voiced sequence of cinema scenes. This part features an archaeologist and his daughter, I belive it is. The animation is limited as always on the system, but given that there is so much other stuff on this disc, it’s impressive that this could all fit. There’s the expected nude bath scene with the girl, badguys chasing them, etc. Eventually you end up in a maze with a first-person view, and have to get them through. Fortunately it’s not too hard. After that, the game shifts to a different guy, and becomes a menu-based conversation/adventure game. You’re going around town, looking for the now-missing archaeologist I think, and have to talk to quite a few people along the way, all in text-only Japanese. I don’t know if you can actually fail this, as I didn’t despite just choosing stuff at random, and eventually I stopped playing during this section. I don’t know how long the game continues on after this, but I’m sure I’ll try it sometime, since this seems like a fairly ambitious title, and the graphics and voice acting are high-quality stuff for a regular-CD title.

There are also a few non-interactive things on a second screen of the menu. First, there’s a huge software database with information on 340 PC Engine (HuCard, CD, SuperGrafx, etc.) games that had been released up to December 1991. It has cover art, game information, and I think a little review (from a magazine I assume?) for each title, and you can sort them by price, format, genre, release date, and the like. From here you can also access a menu with some images that have voice clips behind them. A few seem to be previews for upcoming games, such as the never-released Marble Madness, but I’m not sure about the rest. Second, there’s a large fanart gallery with REALLY weird, crazy art on its title screen. Going through this (press “down” to go to the next picture) takes a while, and getting through the whole thing was tedious, but the ending was interesting — the last three, probably the winners, have little voice clips with them. Also it’s not just PC Engine fanart; you’ll also see Sonic (yes, really), Goku, and Dragon Quest art, for example. Last, there’s a menu with a text message from the editor and a few other text blurbs. Overall, Ultra Box 6 is interesting. Most of the games have major language barriers, but even so this is pretty neat stuff to look through, and I”d like to get the other Ultra Box volumes in the future. I only have this one because that’s the one that came with the game lot I got.

Valis IV – The Fantasm Soldier (J exclusive) – One player, saves to system. Telenet’s Valis II, starring Japanese-schoolgirl-turned-magical-warrior Yuko, was one of the earliest platform-action games to release on the Turbo CD back in 1989. The series started on Japanese computers (and the NES), and there are also Genesis and SNES cartridge versions of all four Valis games, but the Turbo CD releases are probably the best known. They aren’t just platformers, but are games full of voice-acted cutscenes, something very new at the time. Valis IV is, chronologically, the last Valis game. After 1992’s Valis IV they made the SNES port of this game, a TCD remake of the Genesis remake of Valis 1, and then the series died, as Telenet stopped making platformers after ’92 and then broke apart a few years later. Because of how big of an impact the idea of a game with a story and fully voice-acted cutscenes was, though, the Valis series is at least somewhat remembered. Valis IV’s story is okay. It tells a new story with new protagonists, but is connected to the earlier games as well. It’s mostly cliche stuff as usual, as you will have to defeat the evil forces and such, but has some good moments in it. As usual on the Turbo CD the cutscenes have minimal animation, but at least there is some, unlike some games. Ingame graphics are great — this game has parallax-scrolling backgrounds in many levels! On the SNES or Genesis that would be nothing, but on this sytem, it’s impressive. Sprite work and bacakgrounds all look good as well. The soundtrack is also good. The voice acting is in Japanese, so I don’t entirely know what’s going on, but that doesn’t affect the gameplay, and you do get some sense of it.

However, all of the games have gameplay design issues, and this one is no exception. As usual with Telenet, the games are definitely not without their flaws. One constant in the Valis series is that the designers love to have enemies zoom in on you from all directions, necessitating either good reflexes, or memorization. Valis level designs can be very annoying due to the constant traps and flying enemies that you won’t be able to predict until after you’ve seen them already. You have a health bar, but it’ll frequently be being chipped away. Valis IV does have some good-sized levels with solid layouts, though. Most levels are linear, but some let you explore along the way as well. The game has decently good controls, and there are powerups to collect that increase your health, increase weapon power, and fill your magic meter, which can be used for special attacks or charge shots. When you get a game over you can continue, but from the beginning of the level, and with weapon power reset. By the middle of the game, this is a significant setback. Even so, it is great that the game saves your progress as you go. The previous two TUrbo CD Valis games also do so, but the rest of the series do not. Saving helps immensely in this game, and makes it much more bearable! At least after getting through a level in this version I don’t have to replay it if I give up later on in the game, unlike the SNES or Genesis Valis games… or TCD Valis 1, I think.

The game has three playable characters, much like Valis III did, except all three of them are new here; none of Valis III’s characters return in playable form. The game also has the Valis series’ only male playable character, though the guy is a large alien thing, not a human. The other two are girls, the main character a warrior-type and the other more a magic-type. The main character in this game is kind of weak, though; her attacks aren’t that strong, and the other girl has a great double-jump too. I much prefer to use her, and fortunately this game lets you switch between all three of them (once you have them all) whenever you want… most of the time. There are some areas where, annoyingly, the game forces you to use the main character. I wish it wouldn’t, but it does have a story to tell. Overall, Valis IV is a decent to good game that is definitely fun for a while. I do think it’s well worth getting. Even so, when I think of playing Valis games, ‘frustrating’ is probably the first word that comes to mind. This might be the best Valis game I’ve played, but it still can be frustrating. Still, the game has decently good graphics, a fair amount of levels, multiple characters, and more. Valis IV also has a SNES port which also got a US release, but that version removes all story cutscenes except for the intro and ending, and only has the main character playable, not the others; they aren’t in the game. Also of course you can’t save your progress. Levels have been redesigned, making them larger than they are in this version, so the game might take longer, but being stuck with that weak weapon of the main characters’ won’t help either. The game does have an enhanced powerup system which lets you pick up, and switch between, multiple weapon or ability powerups, and it’s a great addition, but it’s not nearly enough to make up for the cuts. This is the better version.

Ys Books I & II – One player, saves to system. Ys (‘ees’, not ‘whys’) I & II is probably one of the Turbo CD’s most popular, or at least best-known, games. The two games on this disc, which you must play in order, are both top-down action-RPGs from Falcom. The game uses Falcom’s signature combat system, where instead of having to press a button to attack you simply run into enemies to attack them, as with most all TCD Falcom titles. It is a simple game, focused on combat, exploring, and grinding above all. Some people compare Ys to Zelda, but the two games have very little in common — Ys has almost no puzzles. It does have save anywhere, though, as in all Ys games I know of, which is fantastic. You get five save slots. In this game, and in the Ys series in general, you play as Adol, a red-haired warrior who goes around from place to place and ends up saving the day and discovering every local mystery in every place he seems to visit, as usual for a videogame hero. In these games he saves several places while discovering the mystery of why, as the subtitle goes, “Ancient Ys Vanished”. Ys is a lost ancient civilization, you see, but there are rumors that it’s still out there somewhere, hidden away. Ys I & II has okay graphics, but not great. As with most Falcom-derived TCD games released into 1994, the game runs windowed, for some reason or other, and I find that annoying, as the game window is a little small. There is a large status bar on the bottom with your health, experience, enemy health, and money, and a thick border around the rest of the screen. This leaves you with a vertically narrow play window. I know that the regular Turbo CD has only 64KB of RAM, but why is the play window on the Sega Master System version quite a bit larger than this next-gen port? It has smaller status bars and a much thinner border. The ingame graphics in the Turbo CD version are improved compared to earlier versions, but still are small and limited in detail. This game looks okay for 1989, but it doesn’t look great. Of course though, the main new feature in this version, visually, are the CD elements. The game has a few cutscenes, high-quality voice acting, and some great CD audio music. Ys always had a great soundtack, and you see that in every version of the game I’ve played (even the SMS version sounds good), but this is one of the best renditions. NEC did the US release of this game, and unlike most titles after it, actually got good voice actors for this one. I’m sure that in 1989 this was amazing, but even now the game sounds great and has a good intro. The voice acting adds to the story during the game, as well.

Gameplay in all Ys games is grind-heavy, and this one set the standard, though this version is easier at the beginning than earlier versions are. The game does have some basic objectives along the way, and occasional story scenes, but the “quests” generally amount to excuses for you to grind and that’s about it. You need to grind enough money to get item X for person Y, explore/grind in the dungeon in question until you find what you need, and then go to the next location to grind in. Until you find the heal ring, you won’t recover health in dungeons, and will have to go back outside to heal; there, just stand still to do so. The game is a bit nonlinear at times, so you will need to explore, and I found myself looking at a guide a few times because I didn’t know where to go next. Sometimes going down in the current dungeon isn’t the right path, but instead after getting to a certain point you need to leave and go elsewhere next. That’s alright, though, as you’ll figure this out quickly — the harder areas will kill you fast, and it gives this simple game a little complexity. As for the level designs, level layouts get mazelike quickly, and this game does not have a map. That dungeon where you can only see a few feet in front of you is an interesting challenge! The TGCD version redid the dungeon maps versus older versions, so the game is not exactly the same as it was before. Future remakes would do the same thing again. On the whole Ys is no Zelda, for sure, but it is somehow fun despite its simplicity. On the issue of levelling, Ys I & II on TCD has maybe ten times more character levels than the Master System version had for the same amount of experience, so you level up significantly more times, but the end result, that you will spend most of the game grinding, is the same. You spend most of your time with this game working your way towards the next level so that you can go a bit farther and fight the next tier of enemies. Combat in Ys works by running into enemies, and it’s actually a pretty interesting system. You don’t want to always just run into them, but should pay attention to where you are running into the enemy, or vice versa — enemies are much more likely to hit you in head-on collisions than when you hit them on the sides or back, and you will probably take a hit if you get hit on the sides or back, so protect yourself. Now, I first played Ys seriously in the Sega Master System version, which I got a couple of years ago. That game has a much lower gameplay speed than the Turbo CD version, changing the feel of the game so that everything takes longer and carefullylining up angled attacks is easier, and vital. The game works at either pace though, so I don’t think speeding it up made the game better, just shorter. On TG16, you run around rapidly ramming enemies. On that note, the SMS also seems to punish you much more for head-on attacks. The basic combat is the same on both systems, but I just played the beginning of both games. In the SMS game, I died twice, in a hit or two each time, when I tried to ram front-on-front into the swordsmen on the first screen. On the TG16, I wiped them out no problem, and only took about a third of a healthbar of damage. At first I thought the difference was that the higher game speed made off-angle attacks more difficult, but no, they still happen; it just doesn’t punish you as much for running straight into enemies, it seems, and that really disappoints me. I like the challenge of having to be careful when approaching enemies! It adds strategy into the game. There still is strategy on the TG16, as if they hit you on the sides or back it’ll hurt, but from the front it feels different. I could be wrong about this though; what do people who have played the game a lot more than I do think? The first boss is definitely much, much easier on the TG16; it went from hard to a joke. Probably the designers wanted to get Ys I out of the way more quickly to make room for the bigger and more varied Ys II, but going through the game so quickly feels unsatisfying in comparison to how it is on the dedicated releases. Ys I & II is not an easy game though, to be sure, and starts getting harder in the temple, once you have to watch your health. And anyway Ys I may be quite a bit shorter than it is on SMS, but there’s also Ys II on the disc. Still, my first reaction to the TCD version’s combat was not good.

Overall, Ys will never challenge Zelda, but as Zelda is my favorite videogame series that’s kind of too bad; anyway, Ys doesn’t try to do that, and instead does its own simpler thing. I haven’t gotten far enough in this game to say anything definitive about it, because I stopped playing partway through Ys I out of disappointment and hadn’t gone back yet until I played it a bit for this summary, which actually would have been much more negative if I hadn’t done so. Between the too-easy early gameplay, seemingly reduced strategy in combat, and smaller gameplay window, I might like the SMS version of Ys I better than this one. Even so, Ys I & II for Turbo CD is a pretty good game. Ys I & II has decent graphics, great music and voice acting that were groundbreaking at the time, and good gameplay that still does hold up alright. Gameplay matters the most in games, and Ys’s gameplay could be better, but it is fun to explore around and run into enemies. But which version of Ys is the best? I don’t know, I haven’t played most of them nearly enough. There are many newer versions of Ys I & II, each with its own differences. Ys I & II, in various revisions, is available on the TCD (this one), PC (several versions, one US-released), PSP, DS, and PS2 (Japan only). I have the PSP version; it adds some new stuff to the beginning of the game, and has all-new graphics, but at its core it’s still Ys. Overall that might be the best version of Ys I/II that I’ve played. The original Ys I was released on the NES, SMS (only US version), and many Japanese computers. Ys II was on all of the same platforms sans the SMS. Ys II saw its first US release in this TCD compilation.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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