Alien Notion

I was searching for a Game Boy Advance link cable when the manager of my local [LARGE RETAIL GAMES CONCERN] informed me that used Game Boy/Game Boy Color games were buy two, get one free. The deal included accessories, and since I already had my cable (as well as a totally rad Jurassic Park III branded worm light) I thought “why not?” She pulled out two unassuming plastic trays that were filled with treasure.

Not a bad haul. Between the special and my discount card these came to just under $4 a piece. Thrifty! I have to carefully budget my gaming dollars these days, and finds like this go a long way. Coupled with a Game Boy Player, it approaches my ideal gaming experience — finish playing on the couch, pull the cart out of the console and take it with you. I was excited when Sony revealed a hardware update to the Playstation Portable that would let you output games to an HD television. Not because I have an HD set (I don’t) or because it works especially well (or at all on an SD set), but because it’s a step in the right direction. Future revisions could improve the video options, maybe let you use an external controller or two, Nomad-style. That would hinge on Sony making a successor to the PSP, of course; given the system’s poor software sales outside Japan coupled with Sony’s general console woes and the evergreen success of the Nintendo in the handheld market, it could be 2010 or beyond before anything along those lines is announced. My 2003 Gamecube peripheral does the trick in the meantime — even if I do occasionally catch myself unconsciously blowing dust out of the carts, NES style.

Some of these picks were no-brainers. Link’s Awakening is my favorite Zelda game, and I was pleased to see Oracle of Ages/Seasons using similar graphics. Wario Land 4 is one of my favorite platformers, but I never had a chance to try the earlier games.

Some were disappointments. I originally bought Castlevania: The Adventure (or possibly The Castlevania Adventure, depending on how you parse the logo) with money I had saved from my twelfth birthday and was so excited that I promptly started playing on the walk home from the store. When I tripped and dropped my Game Boy on the sidewalk, breaking the screen, I didn’t realize at the time that this was the universe’s way of keeping me from playing Castlevania: The Adventure. While it does an amazing job of simulating the graphics and music of its NES predecessors, your sprite moves agonizingly slow. And to rub it in they added a timer. If a player cannot slog across the first level in less than the thirteen minutes given they should be presented with a screen that says “Game Over (sorry, man…)”

And some were unexpected gems. I grabbed a 1990-vintage Game Boy game called Heiankyo Alien based on its artwork and because I was curious about its Japanese title. It turned out to be an action/puzzle title with a stealth ambush vibe, placing the player in the role of a warrior holding back an alien invasion in Japan’s Heian era. You must defeat the aliens as they chase you around period-inspired mazes by luring them into holes and burying them alive. It’s like Lode Runner played from a top-down perspective. Finding a spot where you can surround yourself with holes is safe, but boring. Because the movements of the aliens are erratic it can sometimes take them forever to find you, and if they arrive in pairs you may be completely screwed since they’re able to help one other out of holes. The graphics are very detailed, though, with several charmingly gruesome death animations. It only has twelve stages…but I can’t complain, since I’m stuck on stage six.

There’s also an option to play a port of the original game, a 1979 Japanese arcade release by an developer named Denki Onyko and likely inspired by Space Invaders, released a year earlier. Somewhere along the way, it ended up at Japanese music label Meldac, whose American arm published the updated Heiankyo as well as a bizarre NES game called Zombie Nation. Despite unresponsive controls, the original mode has its own rustic arcade charm — just not enough to pull me away from the updated version.


14 thoughts on “Alien Notion

  1. The best part about Heiankyo Alien is the delightfully demented ad campaign, featuring a shovel-wielding samurai fighting a horrible alien creature while in its mouth. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

    What really burns me about the GameBoy is that many of the games are really dumbed down from their NES counterparts. Castlevania is a very good example, but so is Alleyway (crap compared to Arkanoid) and Super Mario Land (crap compared to Super Mario Bros.). Nintendo and its third parties didn’t get their heads in the game until a couple of years after the system launched. Once that happened, games like Mario Land 2 with their ginormous, intricately detailed characters and satisfyingly deep gameplay made you wonder why GameBoy owners ever settled for anything less.

  2. I had Castlevania Adventure as a kid, too. I played the hell out of it since at the time I didn’t have much else for the system, but I can’t deny that it kinda sucks. The sequel was much better.

  3. Legend of the River King is probably the best bear-punching sim available for the Game Boy. Good choice, sir.

  4. Don’t let Castlevania The Adventure keep you from playing Castlevania 2 Belmont’s Revenge, the most excellent sequel for the GB.

  5. Disagree that Super Mario Land is crap, compared to SMB or not. Too short and easy, sure, but it’s cool and weird and fun and different. I was disappointed by the comparative conventional-ness of SML2.

  6. Is that Ninja Brothers I see? I used to play Kung-Fu Heroes and only recently heard about Ninja Brothers on the NES. Is the Game Boy one worthwhile?

  7. Hey is that Donkey Kong ’94 I spy? Nice catch, that game was pretty good. It’s a shame its successors on the GBA and DS really kinda missed the mark in terms of basic, streamlined puzzle-platforming.

  8. Okay, every time somebody puts up a new post, I get duplicates of the last 10 in my RSS reader. Anyone else having this problem?

  9. Lucky you! I see that sale often but the pickings are too slim at my local stores for me to bite on it. I’m lucky if I see one game that catches my eye. A shame because I do so love tiny games.

  10. Great read. Man… I almost forgot how much charm the original Game Boy titles had. It’s still my favorite platform for Tetris.

    (Also, I second the Super Mario Land appreciation. Thoroughly.)

  11. Man, that is some haul. I think that’s the kind of Game Boy collection I could dig simply because of all the Zelda and platforming action there. Nice find.

  12. Wario Land 2 is my second favourite original GB game ever, next to Pokémon Blue, and I hold the other two in pretty high esteem as well. It was very smart to pick up that trilogy of games.

  13. Ninja Brothers was only a disappointment because it’s $10 price tag skewed my thrift-curve. I haven’t spent much time with it otherwise (with this line-up, can you blame me?) DK’94 is awesome, I had forgotten it was the precursor to Mario Vs. Donkey Kong until Anthony mentioned it. Mario should have always had back-flips. I also gladly ride the Mario Land love-bus. The sequels have better sprites at the expense of making the levels feel cramped (think Metroid 2).

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