Friday, December 30, 2011

Of Import: Shubibinman III (1992)

If you follow this blog at all, you know that my import game habits tend to be pretty random; if I can pick up a Japanese game that I haven't played for a reasonable price, it's a candidate for the collection.  Sometimes this means I end up with good games, common and cheap because they were deservedly popular back in the day, and sometimes I buy bad ones, cheap because nobody really wants to play them.

I'm glad to say that Masaya's Shubibinman III (full title: Kaizo Chojin Shubibinman III: Ikai no Princess) for the PC Engine is one of the good ones, despite its publisher's decidedly mixed reputation.  The Shubibinman series started out as a bit of a Mega Man imitator, especially the second game in the series which arrived in North America (and on the Wii Virtual Console) as Shockman.  But by the time the series reached its third entry, the first and only installment released on the CD-ROM format, it had matured into its own style of game.  This one has sharp, arcade-quality 16-bit graphics, quality CD remixes of the game's musical themes, and substantial, high-quality animation and voice work.

And it's quite a fun ride -- while it doesn't quite reach the heights of Treasure's Gunstar Heroes or SNK's Metal Slug series, it shares an anything-goes love of novelty with those classic side-scrollers.  Our hero (or heroes -- two can play simultaneously) fights through side-scrolling levels and simple mazes, battling various robotic and organic enemies.  But the game takes full advantage of the CD-ROM medium's capacity to shift gears early and often, preventing the gameplay from becoming predictable or repetitive.  It's also technically impressive, pulling off some striking effects on the PC Engine.

The opening animation sets up the story, which has a little more character than the norm -- while I don't speak Japanese, I was able to suss out that the pink-haired villainess has something against our champion, based on her tone of voice every time she spits out "Shubibin Man!"  She's accompanied by a couple of comically useless henchmen, and the whole affair is treated in a lighthearted manner, allowing for plenty of variety in the gameplay.

The first level is graphically impressive, with parallax scrolling way beyond the usual scan-line effects; large buildings are placed clearly in the foreground, no mean trick on this platform.  Shubibinman can attack by swinging his sword, and if we hold down the fire button for a while before releasing, he can fire a semi-steerable ball of intense energy.  And after taking out a number of routine enemies, our hero defeats and commandeers a giant mech, sprinting through the rest of the level firing its lightning weapon and occasionally tripping and rolling harmlessly past low-lying obstacles.

Later, the game takes a stylistic break from its futuristic setting, presenting a classic kung-fu movie scenario with a setting sun and a traditional jump-kicking foe -- who turns out to be a cyborg as we whittle him down.

We also encounter a snowman made of sprites, who appears in several different forms, including this one that spawns miniature snowmen to get underfoot and cause trouble.

Eventually we face the ostensibly final boss, who unleashes magical attacks until we succeed in bring her down.

Of course, she is not the real enemy here -- she has been manipulated by this purple-haired dude, who summons an array of demons and creatures for a final boss rush sequence.

Along the way, this cool spotlight effect turns up -- I'm really not sure how this is pulled off on the humble PC Engine, but it looks very nice:

This dragon boss is impressively large, though the absence of other background imagery gives away the programming tricks involved as we flee, dodging its laser breath and trying to duck above its wings to get in a few shots of our own:

After defeating the real final boss, there's this very bizarre coda in which a genie robot talks Shubibin Man's ear off before finally succumbing to his attacks:

And then it turns out it was all a dream, as Shubibinman wakes up on the beach -- or was it?  Our trio of villains shows up at sea, riding a giant mech -- and the game is over, the sequel apparently promised here never having materialized.

There's an unusual Omake bonus section that becomes available on the Options menu after the game is finished -- it features art submitted to Masaya by fans of the earlier Shubibinman games:

As well as a brief little cartoon that features our hero's own fan art, presenting our heroes in a situation with which our female lead is apparently not in agreement:


This proves a cautionary tale for otaku everywhere:

And that's where the fun of Shubibinman III finally ends.  It's too bad that Shockman apparently didn't sell well enough in North America to merit release of this solid sequel -- it really does show off the hardware nicely, and it's far less repetitive than most games of its era.  But the CD-ROM peripheral was not a strong seller here, and localization would have required a significant investment in translation and recording.  At least we can still play the Japanese original -- it will run just fine on the American TurboDuo and TurboGrafx-CD -- and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

This one is well worth owning, and it's not overly expensive. You might be able to find a copy for sale here:

Shubibin Man 3 PC-Engine CD

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