[youtube id=”Ilsx3wm1nVY” width=”633″ height=”356″]
So recently, I wrote up a nice big review on Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection for the Sony PlayStation 3. Seeing as this game was a remake, it was only natural that I would have some nostalgia toward Dragon Ball Z games. This is especially true when you consider that Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 was my favorite Dragon Ball Z game of all-time, and remains so today despite its years.
Funny thing is, this got me looking back even further than the PlayStation 2. My first encounter with the Dragon Ball franchise actually took place way back in 1988 before I knew anything at all about Dragon Ball. This happy accident came in the form of Dragon Power, which released on the NES in North America back in March of that year. This game, along with Joust and Elevator Action was among my very first titles.
Obviously this was back well before Dragon Ball Z got popular along with a handful of other anime programs, so the rather curious decision was made to change many of the actual references to Dragon Ball. Even the titular objectives – Dragon Balls – was changed to ‘Crystal Balls’. There are a lot of things I did not remember from this game, only that there was a very loose connection between this game and Dragon Ball Z, starting with the main character named Goku.
Probably the most curious item was that while the cover art makes this look like an average martial artist, the game character was made to look more like a monkey than how Goku looked in the Japanese version of the game.
At least the your main character’s name remains Goku, but basically every other name gets changed around for the US release. Even the famously overused Kamehameha move is replaced with Wind Wave. As you can see in the above pictures however, most of the characters (in this instance ‘Nora’ in the US version and ‘Bulma’ in the Japanese one) look the same. The exception to this appears to be Master Roshi, who got a complete overhaul.
If you notice the captions, the character art was not the only difference, but some of the more Japanese themes (such as Master Roshi being a pervert) were taken out to set better with US audiences
The game itself? Not very good. At an age where the word ‘dragon’ usually meant something awesome to a kid (Double Dragon anyone?), this game suffered from poor controls and collision detection and tough difficulty. The story itself made very little sense, but given that the localization was not only changing the language, but also in may places the content, I guess that is not a huge surprise.
The majority of the game played out in a 3/4 overhead view like The Legend of Zelda or Deadly Towers, though boss fights switched over to a side view. These boss fights were tough too, because your attack types were so limited while they just kept plowing into you head-on with their weapons/moves.
Matters are further made worse by the fact your health is constantly depleting even when you are not getting hit by enemies, a sort of timer that makes the game inherently more difficult with every passing second.
Even though this game really is not very good, it was one of the first NES titles I got to play as a kid. It was still leagues ahead of what I had experienced to date and showed me that there was a world of more complex games waiting to be discovered (let’s face it – Elevator Action and Joust were cool enough arcade games at the time, and they translated well enough to the NES, but they were endless loop games originally built to take your quarters. This was probably, along with Super Mario Bros, my first video game that had a true set of objectives or ‘end game’ to strive for). For that I will likely hold a soft spot for Dragon Power in my memory, despite its shortcomings.
That it turned out to be my first brush with the Dragon Ball Z universe was an amusing realization years later.
In 1992, developer Bandai published a side-scrolling license beat-’em-up cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This video game was called Toxic Crusaders, and based on the television cartoon of the same name. Loosely following the plot of the show, the adventure charges the player with cleaning up the streets of Tromaville as Toxie, the eco-friendly protagonist who has been tragically mutated into a hideous Toxic Crusader.
This is a standard, basic, formulaic side-scrolling beat-’em-up: A button jumps, B button attacks, the directional pad moves. There are really only one or two pieces of flair to be found otherwise; for example, the player has a life bar, but also has a Mop Meter. The player begins with a mop to swing as a weapon, slightly stronger than fists and with a little longer reach, but loses it in one hit. If the player can somehow manage to keep the mop around, and gain a mop meter point to two, the mop shoots a projectile attack. If the player can get the mop meter to three, then the mop can be thrown like a big boomerang weapon and Toxie can punch as it flies.
There are even the usual beat-’em-up elements like a skateboard level (quite essential to any 80’s or 90’s gaming experience) and even an underwater stage. The enemies are pattern-based, as repeated plays will make passing the waves of baddies much easier as the player learns their vulnerabilities, most of which amounts to “do not attack in a straightforward manner; rather, move up or down directly into an attack, or even let them move vertically to you as you are swinging.” Each of the six levels has a boss fight, and there are items hidden in destructible objects that can increase health or mop meter.
This is one of the NES video games to incorporate parallax scrolling (the appearance of layers of background that move by in differing speeds), which is always a nice touch. To be honest, this is a solid-looking 8-bit game, with large, colorful characters, well-crafted backgrounds, and decent animation performance with less flickering and slowdown than you would expect. The year is 1992, and console developers have certainly learned to push the NES hardware and palette to their max, Bandai being no exception.
The soundtrack is actually somewhat enjoyable, providing appropriate oomphy beat-’em-up tracks begging for some drum-and-electric-guitar remixes, even managing to range the gamut of moods from active inspiration to somewhat creepy in a minor key. The ditties do have some bizarre rapid screeching effects every once in a while, as though to purposefully throw the player off-guard. The effects are okay, but seem somehow a little off. For two examples: The pause noise seems like Bandai’s attempt at the classic effect of, say, Konami, or even Ocean’s superb pause sound in Robocop, only to not quite make it and seem a more sophomoric effort; secondly, check out the dying scream of the first boss for a true trip into weird-effect territory.
This video game is not only based on a pre-existing license, but is so blatantly formulaic that even its one attempt at creativity, the Mop Meter, is just an inferior version of the scaling-weapon functions present in many other, prior existing games. The level designs are okay, but skateboarding and underwater stuff was hardly ground-breaking at the time.
Toxic Crusaders never achieves deep gameplay mechanics. The first level only has two types of enemies, as one example. This cart would have also benefited, at the very least, from having a two-player mode. Nonetheless, what players have is a watered-down version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the environment-saving overtones of Captain Planet, driven through gameplay mechanics only a step above the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes NES game. Yet another license game that looks pretty good, sounds alright, plays okay, but never really reaches for greatness. This is a very average NES game that serves as a perfect case study of a Typical Early-1990’s NES Video Game, cleaning up a score of two and a half stars out of five. Oh, and expect repeat bosses. Also, try not to get a seizure from the intense flashing greens of the sewer water. Finally, remember: “DON’T BE A PUNK ‘” RECYCLE JUNK!”
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.
Name: Y Pham
Profession: Quality Assurance Lead
Company: Bandai Namco
Favorite Game: Earthworm Jim
Quote: A pure classic platform game that reminded me of my childhood.