Friday 18 March 2011

Adventurous Boy

That was one long radio show.

"Unlicensed drivel!? I thought you'd grown out of that, Squirrel!". Not quite. Top time travelling duck fan BanjoSonic likes to feed me forgotten pirate games once in a while. This is one such game, Adventurous Boy for the Sega Mega Drive. It's a broken Fantasy Zone clone... how could I resist?

Of course, there should be no Fantasy Zone heathens on my blog, but if you're blissfully unaware of these sorts of unwritten rules, Fantasy Zone stands as one of the first "cute-'em-ups", taking the formula seen in 1980's Defender and turning it into something completely new and great.

One of its sequels, Super Fantasy Zone released on the Mega Drive, was even newer and greater, but for one reason or another, the Fantasy Zone formula's been almost absent from our screens since. In some respects it's understandable - it's difficult to improve on the formula seen in Fantasy Zone without shaking up the gameplay entirely, but it's still a sad thing to see a franchise be dropped completely. Hi Streets of Rage.

Unless of course you count Adventurous Boy... I mean you wouldn't, obviously, but it's a nice thought. Adventurous Boy is a Chinese game, from the land where copyright laws were virtually non-existent, and it's... not great. In fact, it's frustratingly bad, not because it plays poorly, but because it was allowed to play poorly. It breaks fundamental rules in video game design and programming standards, but unlike other games of this nature, Adventurous Boy looks like it's been poorly treated through no fault of its own.

In fact, in the spirit of the moment, Adventurous Boy could be seen as the sort of game that needs funding from Comic Relief. It's Chinese overlords pushed this out before it was done to trick the unsuspecting public. It's been used and abused, and now it sits in my ROM folder, being looked down on by emulators too ignorant to understand what's going on inside. But Kega Fusion understands and that's all that really matters.

Adventurous Boy, with its un-westernised title, is essentially Fantasy Zone with an added layer of tat. You play as "not Opa Opa", flying (or walking) across the looping sidescrolling stage attacking the Adventurous Boy equivalent of "bases". Once all the bases are destroyed, it's time for a boss, and after the boss is defeated, you progress to the next level. Along the way there are numerous enemies to overcome, but a handy dandy shop system is there to help you out. Of course, in order to fund upgrades you need to collect dropped coi... erm... stars, and most upgrades are hindered by limited ammo.

So basically, if you've played Fantasy Zone there's nothing really new to see here. In fact, if you've played Super Fantasy Zone, there's even less to see, as large parts of this game are recycled from the Mega Drive classic. Now I'll admit, I can't document the full list of changes like I may be able to do with other games for one simple reason - I haven't played enough Super Fantasy Zone, but I'm sure someone else can fill that gap if they feel the need to.

One thing that's definitely apparent is the way Adventurous Boy plays. It's what's known in the industry as a "choppy unplayable mess", made difficult for all the wrong reasons. It's the typical pirate ideology which states that the game should be as difficult as humanely possible in the hopes of a) getting repeat plays, arcade style, and b) to mask broken features or length issues experienced later during play. It's dishonest game development practises such as these which frankly, ruin Adventurous Boy - had there been a true sense of quality control and entertainment given a higher precedence than income, we could have had a wonderful game on out hands.

Things generally aren't smooth. Enemies jitter about on screen, and as you'd expect, there are far too many of them. It's very difficult to get to grips how this game works - the usual Fantasy Zone tactics don't tend to work because a good proportion of the enemies are armed with very dodgy projectiles. Though you can predict the patterns of enemies, the game requires you to move far more often, a problem exacerbated by the fact the sprites are a bit too big for the screen.

But it's not a completely awful invention. The music isn't terrible, the graphics are certainly passable and it's certainly got all the main features of a Fantasy Zone game. It's just that the overall package is somewhat sub-par. The lack of polish, the choppy movements and the jumpy framerate stain this game. The fact that speed isn't calculated properly, and the fact that it fails to be visually appealing for a non-Chinese audience means that sadly, Adventurous Boy always remains second-best.

But is there worse out there? Oh my, yes. And for an unlicensed title, Adventurous Boy isn't too shabby. Perhaps at the same level as Super Bubble Bobble MD on the "unlicensed Mega Drive game decent-ness scale".

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