PCZ ISSUE 127 - APRIL 2003


Special 10th birthday celebration

IN THE HUNT (Irem, Arcade/Saturn/Playstation/PC)

Glancing casually at the screenshot, you’re probably already thinking “Hmf, that just looks like a lazy ripoff of popular Neo Geo platform’n’shooting series Metal Slug.” But that’s why Emulation Zone is writing this column and you’re not, because Emulation Zone knows that Irem’s submarine-bound shoot-‘em-up was released in 1993, a full three years before the soon-to-be-seminal Neo game. But it’s not just for being first to Metal Slug’s distinctive graphic style that In The Hunt deserves to be remembered, because it’s a fantastic game in its own right.

Side-scrolling shooters were pretty out of fashion by 1993, but ITH (playing a lot like a cross between the aforementioned Slugs and Irem’s own R-Type) is a timeless classic. From the first few seconds it’s an all-out carnival of carnage, the stirring music all but drowned out by the cataclysmic explosion of pretty much everything on the screen. But it’s a beautifully balanced game, which for a change makes you work for every inch of progress, rather than filling levels with cannon fodder as a prelude to a ludicrously overpowered boss.  There isn’t room here for even a swift guided tour of the highlights, so just load it up and enjoy some of the most inventive arcade action there would be for at least the next three years.


CANNON FODDER (Sensible Software, Amiga/Atari ST/PC/Mega Drive/SNES)

And speaking of cannon fodder, no 1993 reminiscing would be complete without giving pride of place to Sensible’s epic arcade wargame, the game that gave birth (via Dune 2 and Command & Conquer, both strongly influenced by CF) to the entire RTS genre. So many things about Cannon Fodder were noteworthy, not least the game’s almost unique moral undercurrent (all your soldiers had names, and their gravestones mounted up poignantly on a green hill as you sent them Douglas Haig-like to their deaths), which was ironically misunderstood by the tabloid press and the British Royal Legion in a media storm that saw the game’s distinctive “poppy” cover artwork (and that of magazines featuring the game) pulled at the last minute under the threat of legal action.

But no amount of hysterical tabloid guff could detract from Cannon Fodder’s groundbreaking, addictive-as-crack gameplay, and the game stormed to the top of the charts and stayed there for years. Indeed, CF and its even-better sequel still sell decent numbers of copies today on a PC budget label, almost a decade after their original release. And how many games can say that?


I, BALL 2 (Firebird, Spectrum)

And speaking of things that lived a long time, Sinclair’s legendary ZX Spectrum computer was still staggering on in 1993, nine years after its debut on the home computer market. Even at this late stage in the machine’s life, there was still room for new original software, and I, Ball 2 – released on the Firebird label and sold at a breathtaking £1.99 – was as good as it got. Programmed by Timothy Closs, who went on to create the superb Kid Gloves for the 16-bit home computers then sadly disappeared from trace forever, IB2 was a gloriously imaginative action puzzle game spread across dozens of single screens, which your intrepid reporter has still never quite managed to get to the end of.


THE CHAOS ENGINE (Renegade, Amiga/Atari ST/PC)

And speaking of intrepid adventurers foiled by arcade puzzle action, brings us neatly to The Chaos Engine, the one truly great game made by star programmers The Bitmap Brothers (that wasn’t Speedball 2). A sprawling adventure in the briefly-popular “steampunk” genre, some derided The Chaos Engine as basically Gauntlet with knobs on, but that was to do a terrific disservice to the level of strategy in the game. Indeed, with the diverse group of heroes you selected your two-man team from for each game, it was probably more akin to a 2D version of Daikatana, only 50 times better.


GUNSTAR HEROES (Treasure, Mega Drive)

And speaking of heroes (stay tuned to see if Emu Zone can keep this straining motif up until the end of the feature), they don’t come much more heroic in the videogame-coding world than Treasure, the secretive Japanese codehouse that brought us legendary classics like Bangai-o and Radiant Silvergun. Gunstar Heroes was the game that first made their name, though – an extraordinary platforming shoot-‘em-up bursting at the seams with fresh ideas and sheer gung-ho joie de vivre. Like a glorious rollercoaster ride right through the middle of the world’s biggest live fireworks show, only more exciting.



And speaking of, um, Japanese things, you don’t get much more Japanese than samurai. (He’s never going to make it. – Ed) The Neo Geo was a machine absolutely awash in fighting games, which makes it all the more impressive feat for Samurai Shodown to stand as head and shoulders above the rest as it does. One of the first ever beat-‘em-ups to star characters armed with weapons rather than just their fists (and science-baffling fireball power, of course), Shodown is the spiritual predecessor to Soul Calibur, and shares that game’s instant-play accessibility combined with an endless well of tactical depth to discover. Plus one of the characters has a dog sidekick, which he probably sneaked in to the fight in secret.



And speaking of secrets (Look! A decoy!), there was a great big one at the heart of this legendary SNES RPG, which many aficionados of the genre still rate above the SNES incarnation of Zelda. The game’s groundbreaking feature was the facility to offer three-player simultaneous adventuring, but even beyond that gimmick it’s a superb piece of design which offers around 70 hours of intesnse questing without having to pad it out with endless non-interactive FMV cutscenes, unlike a certain other Square RPG series we could mention.


CYBERMORPH (Atari, Jaguar)

And speaking of Final Fantasy, surely the (cough) final fantasy of the once-great Atari Corporation was their belief in the Jaguar console. Released in the “dead zone” between the end of the 16-bit consoles and the launch of the Playstation and Saturn, the Jag was a powerful machine almost completely bereft of quality software, and ironically one of the few great titles it ever saw was given away for free with the machine. Cybermorph was an eerie, otherworldly space opera not dissimilar to a “grown-up” version of SNES hit Starfox (also released in 1993) but was tragically lost to posterity in the general incompetence of Atari’s marketing department.



And speaking of sadly-wasted technological breakthroughs, one of the biggest selling points of Sega’s ill-fated Mega Drive add-on the Mega CD was its ability to create rotating 3D graphics in the style of the SNES’s famous “Mode 7”. Unfortunately, only one game ever made any real use of the feature before the machine completed its swallow-dive down the toilet of console history. Core’s lovely helicopter blaster – like a first-person version of Desert Strike - deserved a much better fate.


YO! JOE! (Hudson Soft, Amiga)

And speaking of fantastic games that only four people ever actually played, Japanese developers Hudson Soft (creators of Bomberman, among many others) spent 1993 in an ill-advised attempt to focus away from consoles and develop games for home computers, which was as financially disastrous as it was creatively excellent. Yo! Joe! is the juiciest fruit from the era, a vast and endlessly entertaining and inventive platform romp (best bit – lobbing Molotov cocktails at enemies and setting their trousers on fire) that was eternally destined to be sneered at by idiot computer nerds and never offered to its natural console-owning audience, who would have loved it like their own child. 1993, eh?



In The Hunt


Cannon Fodder


I, Ball 2


The Chaos Engine


Gunstar Heroes


Samurai Shodown


Secret Of Mana






Yo! Joe!




Emulation Zone is brought to you in association with the International World Of Stuart Foundation.