I often pick up cheap, random Japanese PC Engine games in the hope of finding a hidden gem. Such experiments are usually rewarded with yet another mahjong game, wrestling contest or incomprehensible RPG, but occasionally I have the pleasure of discovering a game like UPL Company Limited's Gomola Speed:
UPL, a.k.a. Universal Play Land, began its life as the Japanese division of American coin-op game producer Universal Entertainment (Space Panic, Mr. Do!). The company went bankrupt in 1992 after producing a number of arcade games, and dabbling directly in the home market on occasion.
Gomola Speed is a deluxe take on the growing-snake games popular on the early 8-bit platforms, with a dash of Gauntlet thrown in for good measure. The player starts out as the head of a cyberworm, and must pick up additional segments while avoiding contact with enemies. Maximizing our worm's length is important, because our only offensive capability involves encircling enemies to destroy them, occasionally revealing powerups and special items. If we touch an enemy with any part of our worm, we lose our segments from the point of contact on down, and must collect them again.
The game opens with a well-designed unguided tutorial mode, introducing us to the basic mechanics of collection and encirclement, without giving the details away before we've discovered them for ourselves:
When all the enemies are eliminated, the level exit appears and we can move on to the next Act:
The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly -- the early levels are open, player-friendly designs, with slow-moving enemies we can easily run circles around with a little practice.
But by Act 4, we are maneuvering in close quarters, trying to avoid instant death from one creature while wrapping our tail around another:
This is as far as I was able to get after a few hours of casual play. Continue credits are limited, so I will have to develop some skill if I hope to reach Act 5 and beyond, in keeping with the publisher's arcade focus. But I had fun anyway -- Gomola Speed is fast-paced and challenging, running at a solid 60 frames-per-second with echoey, sine-wave-based music in the best PC Engine style. The metallic graphics are nicely-shaded, and the game's essential simplicity holds up well a few decades on.
Given UPL's demise in 1992, I don't think we're going to see this one in officially emulated form any time soon. Interested gamers may be able to purchase an original copy at this affiliate link.