Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Import: Black Hole Assault (1993)

Import gaming time again -- and no, this one is not some sort of disturbing adult game, despite the title made up of three otherwise appropriate English words that don't quite work in combination.  Black Hole Assault is a sci-fi fighting game published by Micronet in 1993 for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format.  It's a bit like Rise of the Robots, but (slightly) better.  It was originally released on the Mega CD, with a US Sega CD release as well, and was a sequel to Micronet's Heavy Nova, according to Wikipedia -- though I don't know much we can trust this source, as it makes no mention of this PC Engine version's existence.

The game never came to the US version of the PC Engine, the TurboGrafx-16, which seems odd because it wouldn't have been difficult to convert.  All of the text is already in English, with the exception of the Japanese subtitles for the intermission cutscenes, but that's not a problem as these scenes are consistently voiced in English.  All they would have had to do is remove the subtitles, but by 1993 the TurboGrafx had already seen its best years in the West, so it might have been worth even that minimal effort commercially.

At any rate, for once I was able to follow this Japanese game's storyline, though there's not much to it -- a hardy band of spacefaring mech pilots must defeat eight enemy robots to save the world/galaxy/universe, et cetera.  Whatever drama this concept might suggest is diminished by the fact that the pilots operate their mechs remotely, never getting anywhere near their opponents physically.  So there really isn't much risk involved here, at least at the beginning of the game.  Later on, we're given less detail about the upcoming battles, but the information we're given for the easier confrontations isn't very useful either:

Each battle takes place on a different stage, with some nice parallax scrolling effects to give the image some depth.  The player has two different fighting mechs available, though I didn't see or feel much difference between the blue and red versions.  The action is typical fighting-game stuff, though there aren't many special moves available -- mostly high and low punches and kicks, with a few rushing attack and projectile weapon moves if we can pull off the right combination of D-pad maneuvers and button presses.

The anime-style cutscenes feature limited animation but look good.  The in-game background imagery is generally attractive, and the robot sprites are smallish but detailed.  The CD-quality music isn't up to the same standard -- it's generic fighting game stuff, consistently energetic but not very memorable.

All would be well here if there were some degree of challenge to the action, but once we learn an opponent's basic attack moves, we can begin to anticipate them and counter with our own attacks, inflicting maximum damage if we get the timing right.  Even that summary overstates the case -- some opponents that seem fairly tough if approached "legitimately" can in fact be taken out with simple low kicks, applied repeatedly.

We do get a little strategic variety toward the end of the game, like this planet where the surface features periodically spurting flames that cause significant injury if we can lure our opponent into position (or get lured there ourselves.)

No enemy data is made available on the final two bosses, battled on Jupiter's moons, Rhea and the H.R. Giger-esque Titan.  The final boss has a couple of modes -- he's heavily armored, so we have to knee him in the face a number of times before he gets up and starts fighting like a robot.  This final opponent is also the only boss that presents much of a challenge -- I am NOT good at fighting games, and I was still able to work my way up to this eighth and final battle in about 45 minutes.

Beyond the story mode, there are several traditional fighting-game options -- an exhibition mode allowing one or two players to jump into battle, as well as more elaborate tournament and league modes.  There's also a Configuration menu that provides quite a few options -- we can even remap the CONTOROL [sic] buttons in case the punch and kick become too confusing to work with.

Ultimately, Black Hole Assault is a very generic robot-based fighting game that's way too easy in story mode.  Against a human opponent, it might have its moments, but the combatants are inherently slow and clunky, and the limited repertoire of available moves means that most battles will degenerate into button-mashing contests, because there's not much else to do.  Move along, folks, there are definitely better import fighter options out there.

I can't recommend this one as anything but a novelty, but if robots and fighting and robots are your thing, you might be able to find a copy for purchase here.

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