I’ve always loved televised pseudo-sports. Ever since I first watched the likes of Hunter and Lightning humiliating the nation’s fitness fanatics on Gladiators, I’ve gone for everything from the predetermined pugilism of pro wrestling to the slapstick obstacle course nonsense of Total Wipeout. With that in mind you’ve probably already guessed that I’m a fan of Ninja Warrior, and particularly the original Japanese version known as Sasuke in its homeland. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a whole series of licensed games based on Muscle Ranking, and that its spin-off Sasuke was the subject of one of them.
Normally, this sort of tale ends in tears – licensed games are normally duds, especially ones based on oddball non-sports with no genre conventions to lean on. Thankfully, the game actually turned out to be quite good indeed, mostly because Konami developed it. The developer sensibly applied the Track & Field template to the game, so each part of the course requires a different set of skills, whether that’s button-bashing to build speed or power, or timing your movements along the Spider Walk. It’s also quite an attractive late era PlayStation game, running at a high resolution and capturing the atmosphere of the show well, particularly with its use of signature camera angles.
However, the thing I really didn’t expect was the main mode, which allows you to create a character and guide them along the road to the show. You’ll have to manage their diet and budget to build their stats in a training regimen comprised of mini-games, all the while keeping tabs on stress levels. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest barrier to enjoying the game – if you can’t work your way around a Japanese menu and figure out which meals will help with strength training or reduce your stress, you’re going to be stuck playing in Practice Mode. But if you do have the required language skills and you’re up for a twist on the old multi-sports formula, Muscle Ranking: Road To Sasuke could be as pleasant a surprise for you as it was for me.
As an Amstrad owner you were used to receiving hand-me-down ports. The ZX Spectrum was far more popular in the UK, so you’d often have to put up with terrible ports of classic arcade games. Sure, efforts like Midnight Resistance and R-Type played well enough, but they didn’t make use of the Amstrad’s graphics and simply reinforced my friends’ opinions that it was a terrible computer.
Of course, even when you did have a developer code a game specifically for the machine, there was no guarantee that it was going to be any good. Take the US Gold conversion of OutRun for example, it’s a conversion so bad it kills any joy you may have had for the original game. Go through the stone bridges and it actually looks like you’re going backwards, it’s that painfully slow.
Thank goodness then that every now and then a game would come along and prove that not only could Lord Sugar’s machine deliver great-looking games, it could actually make its rival Spectrum and C64 ports look weak. Gryzor was one such game and even now it’s a great conversion. Many of us will actually know it as Konami’s Contra, which was a popular arcade run-and-gun from 1987. Ocean’s home conversions were released the same year, and the Amstrad version was particularly impressive. In fact it was amazing, probably the best possible port it could be.
Coded by John Brandwood, it features the same fantastic sprite design that he had also used in Renegade (which was published under Ocean’s Imagine label). It’s only flick-screen compared to the Spectrum and Commodore 64 versions, but it’s arguably a much tighter game to play. The controls are superb, with jumping and dropping between levels handled by pushing up or down on the joystick, while holding the fire button locks you into firing and enables you to crouch. It’s a solid system that really comes into its own on the into-the-screen sections that appear on every other level.
It effortlessly captures the style and gameplay of the arcade original, and ultimately that’s all you can ask of any 8-bit home computer. Play it today – you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re a fan of Frogger, you’re in good company. The original arcade game was a smash hit that attracted a broad spectrum of fans, and the amphibious hero had a hugely successful comeback run starting in the late Nineties – and that’s not to mention his cartoon appearances or the classic episode of Seinfeld dedicated to George’s pursuit of a high score. And now he’s the star of this week’s retro gaming spotlight, kindly provided by community team member AllenTheAlien. If you fancy a chat about one of the best non-violent games from the golden age of the arcades, click here to visit our forum.
Of course, the company that brought Frogger into being was Konami, and this month we’re celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary with a special issue. As well as the regular magazine (featuring a gorgeous full art Castlevania cover), readers get The Mini Konami Companion, a guide to 50 of the legendary developer’s greatest games, and a sticker sheet featuring sprites and artwork from across the company’s history. To pick up your copy, visit your local newsagent or order directly from us at My Favourite Magazines.