Friday, March 23, 2012

Of Import: Browning (1991)

The PC Engine's Super CD-ROM format allowed games to become bigger and better -- at least in theory.  Sometimes the extra memory enabled fancier intros and cutscenes, but the gameplay remained standard, or even substandard.  Nihon Telenet's 1991 mech shooter Browning, developed by RIOT, is one of those games.

Despite the title, Browning is slightly more exciting than watching an apple change colors in the open air.  The title actually stands for BROWN INnovatory Gunner, as explained in the intro text (or at least, this is what I assume as some familiar characters beckon to my Japanese-impaired eyes):

The intro display seems to be the only Japanese language material in the game -- all other onscreen text, and even all of the voiceover acting, is in English.  The game opens with an introductory section, showing the titular mech flying through the air, while aging pilot Breed Schuyler's female sidekick Chikako Maxima zooms along below on her motorcycle:

Now, if Browning were an American television series, viewers would be subjected to a great deal of rumor and innuendo about whether the lead characters were or would eventually become involved in a romantic relationship, despite their apparent age difference.  (I mean, they are named Breed and Maxima, after all.)  Browning's intro makes such speculation completely unnecessary:

Oh my God!  His nipples!  What have you done with his nipples?

So that's the setup -- post-coital bliss is disrupted by the news that something is evil in the world, and one man in a giant robot suit must sally forth to destroy it (while Chikako, unseen after this point, apparently stays home and repairs her motorcycle.)  As the action kicks into gear, Browning starts to lose its appeal.

The graphics are quite nice, with layers of background parallax scrolling not often seen on the PC Engine; even more impressive, when our hero jumps into the air, the ground layers closest to the "camera" separate and spread vertically the way they ought to.  The music is decent CD-Audio game rock circa the early 90's -- the biggest problem is that the mech's suitably heavy, thunking, metallic step sound effects are played so loudly they obscure the otherwise pleasant background tracks, and the introductory voiceover is uninformative: "You're on time, Browning.  Start the mission!"  Thanks, HQ! I forgot my watch and was actually planning to have a snack first!

The game looks and sounds fine, but the controls are absolutely awful -- even with only one D-pad and two buttons to contend with, I had to dig into the manual to find out how to do some very basic things.  Yes, it's a mech -- it shouldn't be too light on its feet, but the approach squeezes all the fun out of the action.

Here is how the controls work:  The D-pad moves the character right and left, or allows him to crouch.  To shoot, we press the I button, and to jump, the II button.  This is fairly satisfactory until we realize that some enemies sneak up from behind, and others approach in the air.  To face left or right, we have to tap left or right D-pad twice in rapid succession.  And to turn on Browning's short-lived hovering jets, we have to hit the jump button twice; the D-pad's up capability never comes into play.  We now discover that the hover jets are woefully underpowered, and do not actually lift the heavy robot into the air; to get him up and keep him aloft requires Joust-style pounding on the button, trying in vain to get enough altitude to hit the other button and get off a clear shot.  We also discover to our growing dismay that we cannot turn the mech around in mid-air... if we need to fire behind us with the hover jets on, we have to land, turn around, and then take off again -- at which point we will probably learn that the jets overheat very quickly and will not be useable again any time soon.

There are only 4 missions, if the manual is to be believed, and Mission 1 is short indeed - it can be finished in under 2 minutes, including a perfunctory boss battle.  To keep gamers from feeling ripped off, the designers have been kind enough to turn up the difficulty using the laziest means possible -- on Mission 2, everything suddenly does double the damage, and aerial enemies have a nasty habit of crashing into Browning as they die.  It's also annoying that, given the capacity of the CD-ROM medium and the load time between levels, the main enemies here are recolored versions of the Mission 1 foes:

I was unable to get very far into Mission 2, and wasn't really motivated to work out a cheat code for infinite lives to see the rest of the game.  If this game were better known, I bet we could sell novelty t-shirts reading, "I'd rather be almost anything-ing than Browning."

Yes, this blog does derive some ad revenue from these links. But I would be remiss if I pretended that everything I have been suckered into importing is something you should buy too. This is yet another one I can't honestly recommend, but if you have a thing for incredibly clunky May-December mech action, you might be able to pick up a copy here.

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