Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Shubibinman, We Hardly Knew Ye


   In 2004 I discovered emulation by way of a middle school friend; We used to play Pop'n Twinbee, Go! Go! Ackman, and even Earthbound after school on a few occasions when I was allowed to hang out with friends. He was sort of a punk so my parents didn't really want me to associate with him but we never hung out much and we sort of drifted away in High School. He had some personal issues and destructive tendencies and after a "Satanic" phase he joined the military and the last I knew he was really enjoying himself there but, I digress - I owe a bit of a nod to him for showing me the evil, black wizardry of emulation.

Apparently there were plans to bring this overseas.
   In 2006 I really sunk my teeth in. One of the games I discovered, by virtue of it's title, was BS Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman Zero ("BS Restructuring Super Human Shubibinman Zero"). How could I not play something with such a bizarre name? After doing some research I figured out it was released on the Satellaview, an add-on for the Super Famicom/SNES that received broadcast signals by a Japanese satellite radio subsidary named St.GIGA that (obviously) never left Japan. It was sort of similar to the Sega Channel which, fortunately for me, my cousin had a subscription to. I had a lot of fun playing titles like Landstalker and Pulseman on that platform, so the idea of something similar for the SNES in a bygone time really got me sort of excited, although my excitement was laced with a profound melancholy.

   In recent months, I have plunged further into the history of Shubibinman (sometimes spelled Schbibinman). With the little resources online about this curious franchise I learned that it did get a release here in the States. It came to the U.S. as Shockman on the Turbo-Grafx 16/PC-Engine in 1991 (it saw a release on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 as well). I was born six days after the release of the Turbo-Grafx; Needless to say, I never had one and I never knew anyone with one.
   As it turned out however, Shockman is actually the second title in the Shubibinman franchise, and the only one to see a western release. The first was also on the PC-Engine, released in 1989, and the third title (K.C.S. 3: Ikai no Princess) was released for the PC-Engine CD-ROM2 add-on in 1992. Then in 1994 K.C. Shubibinman Zero was released. Sources such as Giant Bomb suggest it was released as late as 1997, which may be the date the broadcast ended since most Satellaview games were released in portions over a period of time (the title screen of the game says 1994). It must be noted that out of all the titles, this one is the most unique and polished of the Shubibinman Tetralogy.

Yes, I'm somehow damaging him.
   The first game of the series isn't the most visually stunning. The controls are notoriously finicky, but it is playable and is a solid example of the action platforming genre though it does little to innovate. I will also note that power ups are very scarce in this game and they don't last for very long so gameplay isn't as varied as it could be. Your main attack is with a sword which is pretty neat, but it get a little boring and when fighting some of the stronger bosses of the game you'll wish you had something more substantial in your arsenal.You can hold the attack button and fire the "Shubi-beam" after you clear one of the first levels, but you can only fire in one direction.
Shockman in action
   The second game in the series borrows the most from Mega Man's playbook. There are two random side-scrolling shooter levels, but for the most part you use a hand-cannon which can be charged up and you can fire that upwards this time. This replaces the sword making it a bit more difficult as you have to be accurate.
Shockman's in a jam.
   Some more of the features of the first game are removed, such as the world map hub, and the power ups received from people rescued at the end of each stage. Shockman is a really interesting title, In Shubibinman Zero there are certain echos back to it, such as "Anti-Shubibinmen". It must be mentioned that this entire series borrows heavily from 80's and 90's Tokusatsu tropes, not just Mega Man.

The doctor is in.
   The third game is a different animal entirely; It has a lot of anime cutscenes making it the most cinematic of the franchise, but it is the easiest entry for sure. In fact, there is no difficulty setting, but I did notice things are a little bit harder playing as Kyapiko, the girl, but I could be mistaken. It's very similar to the first game in terms of gameplay; the swords finally return and this time you can move the "Shubi-beam" when you fire it by moving the D-pad after a short charge time.

Kyapiko battles one of three alien invaders.
   I mentioned the second game having a scrolling-shooter stage, This entry in the series has one as well. You have to destroy alien plant life as it sprouts up to deter you while you ride a giant insect creature; then you are assailed by an alien dragon, possibly a nod to the dragon bosses of the first series.

  I had a lot of fun playing this game, it's not difficult but comparatively the final boss is rather cruel; It offered no safe area to dodge his counter-attacks when shooting the "Shubi-beam" and staying too close to him is costly as well. You just need to keep attacking and dodging his punches and he should be finished in no time. I sure loved playing this one. It's also really great looking to boot. The later stages get strange as you find yourself on an alien planet which is a change for the series since you're usually fighting robots in a semi-futuristic setting. I like how the enemies have a sort of bio-mechanical look, too (except these strange snowmen bosses, they're pretty lame).

Tasuke slaughters some snowchildren
   As for BS Kaizou Choujin Shubibinman Zero - Well; check back in a few days for a deeper look into that game. If you want more Shubibinman III however, leave a comment and I'd be glad to do so.