Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shubibinman Zero to Hero



   In my last article I described my first encounter with this particular entry in the Shubibinman series, so I'll spare you from repeating myself about the developer information and the platform it was released on. From what I can infer regarding the story, a crime syndicate called B.B. Dan has begun spreading terror in the Shubibinman world. It's enforcers, which are called Battlemizers - Galko and Kagemaru respectively; utilize various robots and yellow jumpsuit-clad goons (among other enemies) to cause general mayhem. You take control of two new Shubibinmen; Azuki and Raita, to stop the Battlemizers and their elusive leader Dr. Shen Kung Si.

Title Screen
   Though it is unknown what happened to Tasuke and Kyapiko, the creator of their robotic power suits; the white-haired mad doctor, has returned. Despite it's very Mega Man-like style which has stuck since the first game, the franchise isn't afraid to change things up unlike the beloved Blue Bomber and Shubibinman is a series that handles the changes well. Even among the PC-Engine titles there are stark contrasts. This one is the most different in it's style of play as it has managed to infuse elements of the beat 'em up genre into it's action-platforming style, something that I believe adds to the overall experience. I'll also note that it lacks the anime cut-scenes of the third game; which is forgivable.

Shoryuuken!
   The two-player mode is the most beneficial way to play this game which, for lonesome folks like me, is a downside. These benefits of two-player mode are being able to play as Azuki, the pink armor-clad Shubibinman. She utilizes the classic sword and her special attack is far easier to pull of than Raita's dragon punch attack, especially in a pinch. The two also have a combo attack that makes some of this game's bosses even easier. Even with the aforementioned changes, the Shubi-beam is still a part of Raita and Azuki's arsenal.

Correction: After watching a speedrun; I've learned that if you use the second controller one can play as Azuki; who is more over-powered than previously imagined.




   The intro stage takes place in a run-of-the-mill city featuring trucks plastered with Masaya's logo, various arcades, and a store that references another NCS/Masaya title - Cho Aniki.


  The next area of the first level takes us to a construction yard. After you make it past some of  B.B. Dan's "Puttie" like thugs, red-masked gunmen, leaping robots that resemble gumball machines, and worker robots that chuck an infinite supply of pickaxes, we encounter the first boss, which looks like it came out of the really awful multi-system fighting game, Ballz. Just dodge his punches, keep your distance and hit him with the Shubi-beam and that's that.

Yunohe, the Ballz reject.

   After a short exchange with Galko, the screen cuts to the Doc's lab. It seems the old coot has managed to get himself bound by B.B. Dan's grunts who then steal a mysterious device labeled simply "G" - which I'm assuming is some prototype power transducer. The purpose of this crime is revealed later on.


  Raita meets up with the Doc and after learning about what had happened, he takes off after the goons, leaving the old man helpless. This poor guy gets no breaks; How are you going to just abandon a helpless senior citizen - especially one who has bestowed you with super-human abilities? The youth today, I swear.



   In the next level we find ourselves in a museum. there's thugs that pop out of glass displays in the background, as well as more red-masked enemies that fire projectiles at you, and strange spinning enemies that remind me of those Teddy-graham snacks for some reason. Towards the end of the first area you will also encounter green fire-breathing robots that are nothing more than pushovers, but are more resilient than the usual adversaries. On the next screen we engage in the first of many mid-boss battles with Kagemaru - This games version of Shockshade, the "Anti-Shubibinman" from Shockman who was basically just a gray palette swap of Tasuke. Here he has not powered up, but later on he will gain much stronger abilities each time you do battle with him. Make no mistake though, he is a formidable opponent and you must keep moving to avoid his lunges.

   Kagemaru is another Battlemizer serving under Galko and will appear before almost every boss fight. It's not until the final stages where you face off against the pirate princess herself. After Kagemaru is defeated, the entrance to the next area of the museum will open. The next section is the aquarium area of the museum. There is some really good looking pixel art of aquatic life in the background. Upon closer inspection I noticed one of the yellow grunts floating in the water tanks further along in the level which I felt was pretty humorous.


   Before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to mention that this game's music is really great. It's sort of like Mega Man X's music and I'm glad that this game decided to lift that aspect of the Mega Man franchise, rather than how Shockman was very overt with it's borrowing of that series' style. Anyway, back to the game. In this area you come across anemone-like robots that shoot projectiles as they rise from the ground; a quick Shubi-beam or dragon punch takes are of them. There's also your standard "putties" and more fire-breathing lizard-bots. Another difference from it's predecessors is that this game is far less linear; nearly every area is broken up into an upper and lower area so it's not just running in a straight line avoiding spikes, pitfalls, and swooping enemies which was prominent in the PC-Engine games. Once again, another more intuitive element to borrow from other SAP games.
  After a while we arrive in the next area, watch out for horizontally moving fireballs low to the ground here. Both the upper and lower tier have walls you must blast through to progress and if not alert you can suffer some damage and this game has limited continues so be on your toes. Further along, theres another area like this, except with one of the red-masked gunners. Just jump over the energy-balls and punch or blast through the wall. The last room before the boss contains two horizontal scrolling energy-balls and a vertical one, as well as a lone normal grunt. Carefully avoiding them, you can jump onto the low platform and successfully leap to the ledge and enter the boss room. 

   We come upon a flustered Galko who is upset you have managed to track her down. She leaps away enraged and as she does, a robotic octopus with only two arms rises from the water below the platform you are standing on. Each arm has a head and they will each rise and shoot a spreading wave of fireballs at you. You can't attack them, so the best way to deal with this boss is to avoid their projectiles and wait until it's' head rises and unleash a barrage of punches on it before it sinks again. Using the shubi-beam here may be tricky when it comes to timing and remaining idle for too long may result in some unnecessary damage.

Tako is a chump.


   After the boss fight, Raita returns to the Doc's lab. As the two catch up, an emergency news broadcast comes on the Game Boy-like screen behind them. It seems the B.B. Dan are at it again. Raita rushes off to the forest to stop their evil deeds. The first section is incredibly easy, just a few pitfalls with sinking logs you have to leap across, along with the standard grunts to deal with, as well as a new enemy; an armadillo-like creature with blades on it's back that spins at you. They're easily avoided but let them be your focus since you can become bogged down punching out other enemies and there is a delay in the controls when you have not completed your punching cycle, so you can't jump out of their way in time if you're not careful. This kind of makes it less about button-mashing and more about being efficient when doling out hits.

   The next section is more typical platforming fare. Gunners pepper the area, along with a few armadillos. There's a few areas where you might get hit by a gunner and plummet down a chasm, but that didn't happen to me at all, so I'm sure it's not a problem you need to worry about. We then come to a bridge with gunners and grunts, as well as leaping fish that discharge an electric shock and more yet armadillo enemies. This area is pretty busy but just keep moving and deal with the gunners here first and you shouldn't have any trouble. 

   I haven't mentioned it before but enemies will drop various things depending on the environment which is a really nice touch. In the first area they drop electronics like boom-boxes, Super Famicoms, and cartridges, in the aquarium it's items like seashells and the like. In the forest they drop mushrooms and so on. Enemies in any area will drop coins, gold bars, and small or large health power-ups depending on the current amount of health you have. It becomes rather fun finding out what new items will drop when you reach a new area.

Here are the various items enemies will drop when defeated; There are four per level.
   After you make your way across the bridge, you enter a Japanese temple amidst the forest. This area gets pretty tricky. There are more gunners to deal with as well as traps that launch arrows at you, but you can use these to your advantage in some cases. Floors will often have saw blades spinning horizontally across them so be cautious. The gunman are the most formidable obstacle here since they are typically placed just outside of the screens reach and as soon as they appear they fire at you, and if you don't expect them you could take some damage and ruin your momentum causing further stress and possibly even more hits. The next area is no different except you can choose to hop across platforms that move vertically, provided you can dispatch the goons and gunmen that occupy some of them before being knocked down to the lower level where there are several saws making their way across the screen. As usual, make the gunners your top priority and this area should be a breeze. After one last leap over a lower ledge with a saw blade we enter the boss room.

   This area has two bosses to deal with. They both appear to be some type of robot ninja - and can transform into either a bird or dog. In their dog form they rush at you; in their bird form they drop several egg-bombs at you that explode when they make contact with the ground. They also can disappear for a few moments, so you must strike whenever they are on screen in their ninja form as the dog form is impervious to your attacks and they are too high for you to reach when in bird form. With careful timing you should be able to make light work of these two; keep in mind that they will gang up on you, this is by far one of the most difficult boss fights in the game when playing alone. Once the battle is over you follow Galko as she heads into some caves and on to the next level.
The Nin Twins can easily overwhelm you.
   First off, the colors in this area in my opinion were well picked, though I am partial to the color magenta; it just seemed to contrast well with the dark teal of the cavern itself and really makes this area stand out the most compared to all previous levels we've seen. As we progress into the caves we encounter another new enemy, it's just the head and neck of a dragon that spits fire at you. 


   They appear more menacing than they actually are as opponents. You can just walk up to them and punch them in the neck and they're history. As we continue on things get very Super Mario when you have to leap over pits of lava that fireballs shoot upward out of. There's nothing too out of the ordinary here and you should be able to make it to the next area just fine.

Trading blows.
   Here we come upon Kagemaru in his second form, this time donning his Shockshade gear, though not completely powered up. If he gets close to you he will unleash a rapid volley of punches at your face. After being hit, he will be invulnerable for a few moments and use that time to warp towards you to attack so you must constantly be on the move. Be advised to avoid close combat with him to ensure you don't take too many hits, I'll remind you that once you use up your three credits it's game over and you must start back at level one.


Once you waste Kagemaru, we find ourselves on an underground train.  The goal here is to progress to the front and take out the locomotive's engineer. We encounter a new enemy here as well, a typical robot with an extending punch, as well as the usual yellow-clad grunts and gunmen. There are also certain train cars that have what appear to be red lasers going across them you must avoid, and one of the car's low tiers has a horizontally moving energy-ball that is easily avoided by going across the top of the cab. After a few more obstacles like these and we arrive at the engine to finally put a stop to the locomotive.

   The image to the right is the engineer; he's not hostile, he's not evil looking - in fact, he's sort of cute in a Vivi Ornitier sort of way. He's just doing his job driving this train for the B.B. Dan, yet you must destroy him at all costs. He doesn't fight back and just sort of explodes when you beat the crap out of him. One could argue that he is being coerced by the evil gang to drive the train; maybe his robot family is being held captive by them. In any case I'm sure it's prime directive is just to pilot the train thoughtlessly with no other malicious coding - which is probably why he just sort of stands there and here you come and obliterate him with a fireball or uppercut for just carrying out his simple duty as a machine. Hell, maybe the doctor who created Azuki & Raita's powersuits could spare the effort to reprogram him - other than using his time and skill to perform weird experiments on teenagers mind you. I'm sure a scientist of his stature could repurpose this guy for any number of duties outside of piloting a train for a nefarious organization, but I digress. After you reduce this innocent robot to scrap we join Raita in the next area, the B.B. Dan's subterranean factory.

   The factory area begins right away; be wary of lasers that fire in unison from a low ceiling that you must inch your way past while fending off the usual grunts and gunners. Some of the previous enemies we have encountered return, but nothing too daunting will hinder you here. Just avoid the lasers and make your way right to the next boss room.
Master's having some technical difficulties.
   We once again encounter Galko, who promptly flees and summons another one of her robot minions. This is the weirdest one so far; it's a clown riding on some type of aircraft powered by what appear to be three turbofan engines. He will unload a bevy of explosives with parachutes that you must avoid, then a separate load of balloons that you must use as platforms to either hit the clown pilot or the engines. You can also kick the engines when they are low enough for you to reach before he drops the balloons, but you may find yourself taking some damage from the bombs. Just keep evading and it shouldn't take long before it's over. 

    
 After the battle is over, the screen cuts back to the Doc in his lab as tremors rock the city. He quickly rushes outside to see the B.B. Dan's Palace arise from underground. Raita shows up and quickly hurries off to put a stop to the gang's terror. The next area takes us inside B.B. Dan's Palace, which is all decked out in homages to Galko; the head Battlemizer with luxurious; possibly gaudy, taste.

  Inside the palace there's the usual enemies, as well as a new one that resembles a luchador. They just seem to flip around and are incredibly incompetent as would-be combatants.

   They are incredibly easy to avoid and they usually land with their backs towards you making it even easier to snuff them out. As we move along there are guillotines that you must careful move under while fending off the almost omnipresent putty-like thugs. This first section is more SAP fare; pits with spikes and horizontally moving platforms are the only obstacles to surpass as well as bumbling enemies. 
  
  
   The next area of the palace is an open bridge with several gaps; across the way you must endure carrot-bomb tossing rabbit girl robots and the usual enemies. Once we cross the bridge we run into Kagemaru again - this time he's at the pinnacle of his abilities. If you linger too long in his sights;
he'll charge up and fire a beam of energy, leaving him vulnerable from behind. Much like in the previous battle; he uses his post-damage invulnerability to warp to your location and rapid-fire punch your face, so keep your distance. If you manage to hit him at the right moment with the dragon punch he should go down easy, allowing us to progress to the next section of the palace.


   This area is pretty bland, there's not many enemies; just loads of spikes and floating platforms like the one featured in the image above that you must use to cross gaps and spikes. The area rounds out with a few guillotines and yellow grunts and after you make it to the next screen we get a chance to see the mysterious leader of the B.B. Dan. We intrude upon a transmission from the evil doctor as he gives out orders to a few of the ever-present putties. When they notice you their eyes bulge out from their heads and then abandon their duties as punch-fodder and flee.

  
   After a short dialogue with the ginger doctor; the screen fades to black and fades back in to the final area of the B.B. Dan's palace. Here you must climb a few steps and dispatch a handful of enemies and then proceed to the next boss room. As usual, Galko exchanges a few words with you and flees, leaving you to deal with another boss. This boss is much different than the rest; It is a stationary head upon a wall. Below the head along the wall are four cannons that each fire out missile-like projectiles tipped with a large spike. You must use these spikes as steps to attack the head. It's all a matter of timing when making your ascent here as there are specific patterns in which the cannons fire. The best strategy for this boss is to make your way to the top, get a few punches in, and then ride highest missile back to the left wall and fire your shubi-beam directly at it's weak point. I'm sure if you can manage to execute the dragon punch when up close, this fight will be over without a hitch, though it is not as difficult as it is repetitive.

Melee on Meke.
   From here we follow Galko as the palace begins to collapse; who then escapes on a flying jet-cycle. Luckily, she has kindly left one for you to escape on as well. Unlike Shockman, or the third Shubibinman game, there is no side-scrolling shooter stage, which felt sort of disappointing. How cool would it have been to have to escape the collapsing palace while maneuvering through classic bullet-hell? A boy can dream. The screen cuts back to the Doc outside of his lab overlooking the city as the palace begins to sink. As it lowers below the horizon, a large and menacing aircraft takes it's place. Raita uses the stolen jet-cycle to board the sky fortress; the final area of the game.



   The first section takes place in the docking bay of the airship; the usual enemies appear here. As we progress we make it topside; more of the typical goons are here too, as well as hovering robots that will fire shuriken-like projectiles in all directions. They appear to be the coolest looking enemies in the game, though still as goofy as the rest, though they are for sure the most effective combatants by far. This section of the final area is pretty shallow in design, but the background sprites are spot on.



   You will see various cannons and turrets; with the moon looming in the skyline. It creates a great atmosphere for the final area of a game that is a bit silly all together. After proceeding past what appears to be a control tower in the background, we probe deeper into the floating fortress of the B.B. Dan. Inside of the airship things hearken back to Super Mario again; there are spinning rings of fireballs as well as other familiar traps to deal with. There's not much more to this section; after you make it past said traps - we finally get to go face to face with B.B. Dan's head Battlemizer; Galko.

She stands atop a platform held up by several pillars. The goal here is to destroy each of these pillars while avoiding the bombs she hurls at you which are disguised as presents. They themselves do not hurt you thankfully. The pillars you must destroy are rather sturdy; even with the shubi-beam they can take a number of hits before finally succumbing to your might.


   It is a bittersweet victory however; after leaping away, Galko can be seen floating off on a giant balloon in the distance. Raita doesn't pursue her as she is small potatoes compared to the elusive head of the crime syndicate. After she disappears on the horizon, the screen fades and we begin our last push towards the inner sanctum.

   The first thing you may notice here is a blue flashing area above you and as you make your way right you will encounter goons who are utterly destroyed when they come in contact with it. Yes, it is as suspected - it's a beam fired from a giant cannon. You must make your way towards it to dismantle the weapon while crushing all opposition in your path, and making sure you don't end up in it's sights. While it doesn't kill you right away, it severely damages you making things a bit more difficult when getting closer to the source as there is a portion that requires excellent timing to make it through without taking a hit. The cannon itself isn't as durable as the pillars from the boss fight against Galko for example, so you should be able to destroy it before it takes another shot.


   In the next area there are more patterns of fireballs to maneuver through. Like before, any one who has player Super Mario should have no trouble making it past them. There are also more of the familiar goons here; The B.B. Dan sure has an extensive payroll. After making it past a spinning mass of fireballs shaped like a smiley face we must do battle with Kagemaru for the final time.

   He hasn't really exceeded his powers since the last time we met up with him, but the stage is what is different. Typically when we must fight Kagemaru there are many platforms to leap from to evade his attacks, this time there are only three and they all are liberally spaced. Like before, avoid being in his sights for long and keep moving after attacking. Patience and speed are the keys to victory here.

   After his defeat, Kagemaru runs off with Raita in tow. We follow him outside of the ship as he missteps on a portion of the ship that gives way with a small explosion and falls to an unknown fate. After he falls a hologram of the red-haired, goggle-wearing Doctor appears, possibly telling Raita that there is no hope and to turn back - I unfortunately cannot read or speak Japanese so I am just assuming, but you don't really need to know Japanese to play this game in the slightest. Anyway; Raita doesn't heed the evil doctor's warnings and sets off to put a stop to him for good.


   It seems that the device stolen from the white haired doctor has been utilized in some type of strange power source for the gigantic flying warship. In any case; you must destroy it regardless. The penultimate battle begins with destroying an invisible wall safeguarding Dr. K; which doesn't take long. After you break through the barrier it's time to target the machine, but things are not that easy. After the wall's destruction, four tiny little jet-like machines descend from the ceiling. when one is destroyed another takes it's place so the object is to avoid them by standing still, letting them fire, then leaping over to cause as much damage as possible in a small amount of time before their next attack. This involves leaping from one side of the room to the other and nimbly evading their attacks. If you collected enough of the special items enemies drop, you should have leveled up your health meter, so you should be able to afford a few hits here. Overall this boss fight's difficulty lies in the skill of the player. Dr. K doesn't attack and cannot damage you nor can you harm him, so don't stress coming too close to him and focus on evading projectiles and destroying the machine behind him.

Major Spoilers Ahead:


   After the machine is finally reduced to a pile of scrap metal; The Doctor staggers off and it is revealed he is nothing more than a cyborg! He then proceeds to explode and with him, the entire aircraft begins to self-destruct so you must quickly make your escape. I really wish this area had a timer like Super Metroid; this game has a lot of missed opportunities. As soon as the screen fades in we must travel left for the first time ever in this game to reach the docking bay where we left our pilfered jetbike. There's a few pitfalls to surpass, but other than that this area is a cakewalk. 

   Once we make it to the bike and speed away from the fiery wreckage - we get shot down. It would seem that the evil doctor is still, somewhat, alive.  We land on a piece of the ship and do battle with a large mecha with a face that sort of resembles Dr. K. It's weak point of all places is it's arm-cannon that fires lasers at you at various heights. You must use your shubi-beam to attack him while he fires high. It's not difficult to pick up on his attack pattern, but he does fire at floor level twice which may throw you off during the first cycle. 


   After he explodes, you must climb over the smoldering wreckage to face the final boss. As you do so, you will notice the ground begins to look very organic and it begins to writhe and pulsate; then the hideous true form of Dr. Shen Kung Si is revealed. His body is rather phallic; his weak point is it's "stomach" which it's neck and head sprout from. On the base of it's neck are two orifices that spit out tiny embryonic explosives that are activated by touch - so when you punch them or leap past them they will flash then explode. This boss is really easy, but if you were worn down from the preceding fight things might be a little rough, but with your dragon punch and shubi-beam things should go by quickly.


   Once the abomination is defeated; the screen cuts to the white-haired doctor again as he overlooks the city as the flying fortress slowly crashes towards the earth in a fiery blaze. Fearing the worst he exclaims over the perceived loss of Raita - but sure enough the blue-clad hero shows up and puts the old man's fears to rest. Raita takes off once again and the credits roll as the Shubibinmen and the Battlemizers appear in the background performing various antics; The End!


   All together, Shubibinman Zero will most likely never surface on the virtual console; There may never be another title in the franchise either - but the point of this entire article was to share with you a game that I really enjoyed for a long time regardless of it being possibly misplaced nostalgia. This game's weird sense of humor and addicting gameplay really won me over, so I felt that it was my responsibility to share it with whomever may be reading this blog. It has it's shortcomings; it's enemies may be somewhat repetitive - but it's not anything like any of the previous Shubibinman games, it's not as "ridiculously easy" as others suggest and presents the player with a fair amount of difficulty (when playing as Raita - Azuki is massively OP), and it at least tried to stray away from being just another "X" or "Y" clone that plagued Shockman. I believe that it really deserves it's time in some form of spotlight. A lot of people wish for a new Mega Man game and I sincerely hope that wish is fulfilled - so here's hoping that along with a new Mega Man title, we get a Shubibinman reboot as well. 

Shubibiyo!