Wednesday 8 June 2011

Space Manbow

You know, if they'd equipped the Nintendo Revolution with specs which were fit for the time period, maybe we wouldn't be seeing "Wii U"s.

Or maybe everyone would benefit if there was more SPACE MANBOWs on Nintendo systems. Originally released in 1989 for the MSX2, it's one of those Konami shoot-'em-ups nobody remembers, except those who do, and it's here once again to rock your world.

Nintendo once teased us with reports of it heading to our Wii's Virtual Console, but the brilliance of Space Manbow was clearly too much for it to escape the Japanese border... in this modern age of globalised digital distribution whose costs are greatly outweighed by the revenues generated by users, not to mention the lack of necessary localisation and marketing. A 256kB ROM image will of course, cripple Nintendo's servers and they'll be unable to provide you with the same products in new packaging. Heaven forbid we allow that to happen.

But maybe not releasing Space Manbow despite having the means to do so is for the best. The Japanese have had twenty five years to adjust to the game's existence. Thrusting it on the rest of the world could lead to chaos, as the non-Japanese man struggles to cope. Or maybe Space Manbow simply hasn't stood the test of time and everything I've written so far is a gross exaggeration of what's actually going on here. But lo, how can this be the case when Nintendo are happy to market Urban Champion in the twenty-first century?

Seriously, do you think this new home console help to supply the world with games like this or will it be a case of getting people worked up for Nintendo to just let them down? I've been waiting since 2009 to obtain this one legally but I finally caved in, proceeding to once again "damage" the industry with freebie emulation. And it turns out I'm glad I did, because it's not as good as they said. So I guess my complaint is pointless. But anyway let's stop giving a damn about the big N and focus on Microsoft of Japan.

For it was Microsoft's Japanese arm that was responsible for the MSX standard. MSX computers were popular in Japan (and for once it's a Japanese computer which had some ground in Europe) but with its 16 colour choppy visuals plagued with attribute clash, it's not a system I particularly care for. It's just unfortunate that the ground work for the likes of Bomberman and Metal Gear came from such a machine.

However, the terms "MSX" and "shoot-'em up" shouldn't belong in the same sentence unless you also put "can't do" in between them. Konami, among others, padded the computer out with games shooters and the results are pretty poor. Very well designed as Konami shooters often are, but hindered by the limited hardware they chose to work with. Dodgy scrolling and dated visuals mean that the majority of MSX shooters have not stood the test of time, and yes, I do think they'd be better suited to the Nintendo Famicom. All of them.

But I wouldn't expect a Famicom Space Manbow to have shown up on the Wii either. There are 612 Japanese Virtual Console games for download and only only 387 and 377 in North America and Europe respectively. The year is 2011. You wouldn't think it.

Space Manbow has an advantage as it was released for the slightly better MSX2 specification. This means it's not as choppy and horrible as earlier MSX releases, but let me make this very clear - it's a title for the hardcore shooter fan, not your normal gamer.

I was drawn to Space Manbow for its crazy name. I mean who wouldn't be? It's supposed to mean "Space Mambo", named after the Mambo Fish, but something clearly went wrong in the translation department. Mambo is also one of may favourite Parodius characters, and since his conception was inspired by this game, you can see why I'd be interested.

Space Manbow could be seen as a Gradius spin-off. It claims to have no relationship with Konami's earlier works, but it's clear that it does, what with the similar music and sound effects and the fact they're both sidescrolling spaceship shooters by Konami set in the future. Of course the unique selling point of Gradius was its weapon system - Space Manbow invents its own and this is enough to justify its existence as a completely new shooter. Apparently.

Space Manbow's weapon system is, on the surface, a fairly simple one. There are a number of powerups, each of which are collected individually. You have your regular firepower updates, missiles, lasers, spread shots and options (similar to Gradius, but these ones are more static), however you also have a large power meter at the top of the screen.

The more powerups you get, the more full this meter gets. As it fills up, everything in your ship's arsenal is upgraded, causing more damage to passers by. However there is a catch - time withers it away. It means that in order to stay on top you have to keep collecting powerups even if you have all the available weapons. Certainly a unique system.

But alas, a somewhat pointless one. Because even though the MSX2 is more bearable than the original MSX, life is still hard on the eyes. Death is a common occurrence, and although the meter survives the crash, your weapons won't. It takes more skill than I have to keep your weapons at the top level for any period of time - the levels are sprawling with enemies and everything wants you dead, and even though you scroll smoothly, chances are they won't and you'll be caught off guard.

However, I can't tell if its extreme difficulty lies with the MSX2 hardware, or whether it was programmed for the mentally ill. I can't get very far in Gradius games without dying either, and they don't have these scrolling issues (discounting the MSX versions of course). There's no way of knowing whether Space Manbow is intentionally hard unless Konami port it to a better system and tune it up. But without the demand it will never happen.

And that's sad, because for a game of this nature it's very hard to criticise anything else about the Space Manbow package. The graphics probably exceed what was normally seen on the Famicom at that time and the music isn't terrible. It just simply took up residence on the wrong system. But if you're a man looking for MSX shooters that don't give you a headache, this could be one of your better options. It's not perfect, but few things are.

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