Game of the Month: March 2018
Forgotten Worlds - Arcade / Multi Format
Like all of the greatest developers, Capcom never sit still. Although the output in the number of games released now are vastly smaller in comparison to the days of old it's clear to anyone with eyes that they are always looking to refine or evolve their franchises. This evolution can be through graphics quality, online interaction between multiple people or by taking an established series and throwing fans a real curve ball. It's an impressive and essential component to what makes them so very good and why decades later they still sit at the top table of the games development community with millions of fans still hanging on their announcements and rushing to stores (or clicking but on a digital storefront) come release day.
One of those stand out moments of recent times was how they managed to combine an arcade style element to their zombie bashing franchise games, Dead Rising 3, for the Xbox One via an additional DLC expansion. Using the same game engine but making enormous presentation tweaks and redefining existing gameplay aspects and allowing gamers to unlock and dress up in costumes they suddenly made an already amazing game somehow completely fresh and new.
Back in the 1980's however things were very different regarding gaming infrastructure. When a company wanted to change or improve a franchise, or sometimes a style of game, they had to release a completely new stand alone title. It took longer, cost more money and if you proposed it as a sequel you ran the risk of alienating existing fans because of the new changes. The pay-off though was that when you got it right, you usually came away with a monster of a hit that not only pleased existing fans of the game franchise or game genre/style but gained a whole new slew of fans. Fans who may even go on to never really know where it's inspirations came from. If you were to propose this kind of idea now then chances are a larger developer or publisher would call it 'too risky', outside the indie dev community it's largely accepted that the big companies don't like to stray too far away from what they know works.
Thankfully here at RGG we focus on the old days and the older ways so for the month of March in the year 2018 it's time to take a look back to a game that whilst absolutely it's own beast, it was also a superb example of how to improve something already outstanding. ladies and Gentlemen, Boys & Girls, Vengeful Gods and shopkeepers with hidden agenda's it's time to fire up the Delorian and head on back to the late 80's to hang with one of Capcom's arcade high points. It's time to remember Forgotten Worlds! (word play intended) ;)
In December 1986 Capcom released another in a line of outstanding scrolling shooting games (shmup for short) called 'Hyper Dyne Side Arms'. Originally an arcade game it was also released onto numerous home computers and consoles including the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and PC Engine formats. In this game the player controlled a flying mecha suit who battled evil forces using a standard arcade stick and three action buttons. One button shot to the left, one to the right and the other selected weapons. It was a natural and superb evolution to Capcom's previous game in the same genre called 'Section Z' which was released a year earlier in December 1985. Section Z used a standard arcade stick but only two action buttons, one button fired your weapon and the other switched between left and right. In just one year Capcom had improved on that original technique to allow for better control for Hyper Dine Side Arms gamers.
With Hyper Dine Side Arms gaining a lot of positive reviews and with Capcom always pushing forward a new game was started that included several of the same team. In development for two years, costing an estimated US $5,000,000 and utilizing their new CPS-1 arcade system which allowed games stored on removable rom cartridges to be run on it's infrastructure the resulting game would go on to become a household name for gamers of the era. In July 1988 Capcom released 'Forgotten Worlds' or 'Lost Worlds' in Japan into arcade halls and things were never quite the same again.
Forgotten Worlds tells the story of an evil God known as Emperor Bios who, in the distant future, has laid waste to most of the Earth. A once vibrant and peaceful world has now become a 'Dust World' with surviving humans hiding from the God's army and fellow deities who he commands. Out of desperation two nameless super soldiers are created in order to destroy these invading conquerors and free humanity. The story itself is a great one as it nicely sidesteps the then usual aliens invading earth scenario that many early games ran with. Much like the games that heavily influenced it, this is a scrolling shooter (shmup) and your mission is to fly through it's 5 stages dispatching wave upon wave of varied and cool enemies in order to defeat all 8 of the games bosses.
As Hyper Dine Side Arms evolved a control scheme used by Section Z, Forgotten Worlds both evolved this concept and in the eyes of many, perfected it. The arcade original release sported the obligatory eight way multi directional arcade stick but instead of a series of action buttons it now contained a rotatable dial type object called the 'Roll Switch' that served as both direction of fire control as well as the fire button itself. Rotating the switch left or right allowed the player to adjust their character's aim in one of sixteen directions, while pressing it caused the player character to shoot his gun. This allowed for the gamer to move their character anywhere while keeping their aim in one direction. Pressing the switch rapidly also caused the character to perform a "megacrush" attack which destroyed all on-screen enemies, but at the expense of a part of their health meter.
The unknown soldier's character was also accompanied by a satellite module orbiting near him that provided backup firepower every time the player fired their gun. Like the main character, the satellite could also be rotated with the 'Roll Switch'. Rotating the character while firing rotated the aim of the satellite, while rotating the character without firing not only rotated the satellite's aim, it also moved its relative position around the player.
Whilst moving forward and dispatching the waves of enemies you collect an in-game currency called 'Zenny'. This enables you to purchase upgrades for both the soldiers and also the satellite module upon entering the shops located in each area. It's here where Forgotten Worlds shows one of it's coolest aspects with the Shopkeeper, who goes by the name of 'Sylphie'.
Essentially a nicely presented face to make a game vendor aspect more interesting she gives the entire game another level of visual presentation and leaves the player with several questions. She seems intent on helping you destroy the evil Gods that have devastated the Earth and has all manner of weaponry to aid you, but you have to pay her for said assistance. With very little background information as to who she is and why she chooses to choose the side of humanity it's extremely strange that she requires currency to do so. Maybe the Zenny you pay her will eventually go to feed the survivors or rebuild Earth later, who knows? it sure is a weird though.
Sylphie also has advice on how to beat the bosses which adds in another layer of strategy as certain weapon modules will benefit you at certain times so spending your cash will absolutely require thought, a bit of luck to start with and repeat play to formulate a strategy. To top this all off you only have a limited amount of time to make your purchase in each shop before the action begins again. This creates some intense stress at times and really raises the pace of the game overall.
Staying with weapons for a second, each of the soldiers has differing standard armaments. player 1 controls a flying muscle-bound soldier, dressed in blue, armed with a long range automatic rifle with unlimited ammo. Player 2 has a short-range wide shot and is sporting the colour red, although in many screens on several formats it looks more pink. Interestingly when both players fly near each other there's an increase in the overall firepower which allows for two gamers with a good level of skill to dispatch enemies faster and easier. Weapon satellites come in a variety of flavours, including add-ons like homing missiles, lasers, flamethrowers and napalm although only one type can be selected at any one time so once again strategy comes into play from area to area and shop to shop.
Forgotten Worlds best moments however come in the shape of it's wonderful boss battles which include Tutankamen, Paramecium, Ymesketit, Dust Dragon, Lord Bios, Laiden & Whodin, Sphinx, Iceman and God Of War. Each battle looks fantastic, requires serious thought and in the case of 'Dust Dragon' and 'God Of War' fills the screen with huge sprite work and insane action. Upon clearing these battles you are also treated to some brilliant cut sequences with the soldiers or one of the soldiers posing in a cool macho way uttering some truly memorable lines. For fans of the game, the line 'You cannot stop me with Paramecium alone' is enough to make you laugh at loud whilst punching the air with joy.
In keeping with how things worked at the time, home ports to every major format of the era soon took effect. Forgotten Worlds was released on the Amiga 500, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, PC DOS and ZX Spectrum home computers by Arc developments and published by U.S.Gold in 1989. Due to the nature of how you moved and fired, most versions had slightly differing control schemes. All the computer versions required a joystick controller in order to be played and could not be played with the keyboard only (with the exception of the IBM PC version, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC versions). The player rotated the character in these versions by holding the fire button while pushing the joystick left or right. The home computer ports also had a reduced level count even though the packaging states otherwise. In total only 4 levels and four bosses made it in.
For many, the definite home conversion for this classic game occurred in 1989 (1990 for North America and Pal regions) when Sega produced their own port for the new 16-bit Mega Drive/Genesis console. The first in a series of 'reprogrammed' games for home console by Sega this version simulated the game superbly. Not only did it look great but using the 3 controller face buttons allowed for a superb way of firing and changing direction of your character using the A, B and C face buttons. Whilst not arcade perfect it's an incredible 2 player experience with both players having equal weapon firing attributes and a selectable auto fire mode from the options menu.
In 1991 the 8-Bit Master System got a very strange port that was only ever released in Europe and Brazil. This version is 1-player only and due to the presence of only two buttons on the Master System's standard controller, the buttons were used solely to rotate the character, who shoots automatically. The Megacrush attack is performed in this version by pressing both buttons simultaneously. It also replaced one of the Egyptian levels with an underwater stage and includes a different end of level boss battle where you fight a giant crab.
The PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16 version, produced by NEC Avenue was released first in Japan in March 1992. It was released as a Super CD-ROM² title which supported a specialized 3-button controller that NEC released only in Japan. The North American TG-16 version was released by Turbo Technologies Inc. With the 3-button controller, the player can control their character as they would in the Mega Drive version, with two buttons to rotate the character and one to shoot. With the standard TurboGrafx-16 controller, the Run button is used in the place of the third button to rotate the character to the left. The TurboGrafx-16 is one-player only, but allows the player to select between either of the two Unknown Soldiers at the start of the game (with their respective abilities from the arcade version retained). It's this version that looks the nicest of the original home ports however not having a two player option very much diminishes the overall experience.
Fast forwarding to 2005 and another generation of gamers got to fall in love with a Capcom classic when it was included as part of an incredible retro compilation called 'Capcom Classics Collection vol 1' that was released for he Playstation 2 and original Xbox consoles. A year later in 2006 PSP gamers got their fix thanks to another retro collection package called 'Capcom Classics Collection: Remixed'.
With the arcade original dropping jaws in the arcade halls of the late 1980's and gaining huge press attention from journalists the home ports faired very well too in both critical acclaim and sales. The ZX Spectrum version especially performed superbly in the UK only just missing out on the top spot due to the sales phenomenon that was Robocop. The Mega Drive/Genesis version sold exceptionally well across every territory and was one of the early reasons to hand over the cash for Sega's 16-bit console powerhouse. Sega and Capcom performed miracles for the Mega Drive/Genesis and it all started with this game right here.
These days if a game looks or feels like another one it's often slated, especially on social media but the simple fact of the matter is that without games taking inspiration from what came before none of you reading this would be playing anything at all. For over 2 decades the only way to improve a game was to make one that either fixed the problems with the old one or took it in different directions to build on existing foundations. Sometimes, and in the case of Forgotten Worlds it did a bit of everything. Capcom, who were always a great servant to the Shoot 'em Up genre never sat still, they kept thinking, creating, pushing things on.
The origins of our GOTM go back even further than Hyper Dyne Side Arms, than Section Z but it's those two fantastic games that would eventually bring us to this 1988 stunner. Forgotten Worlds is not the most original game of all time but who cares when it looks this good, plays this well and kicks this much ass!
Intense action, great weapons, a cool story, flying macho men with big guns and cool hair. Gorgeous graphics, epic boss battles and a shopkeeper who although looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth is actually profiting from war, death and destruction. It makes a bit of sense at times and at others it's total nonsense but ultimately it's a ridiculous amount of fun. 'They don't make them like this anymore' is a phrase that could be put on the box cover of this game, because although Capcom and many others once did it seems that it's a time long since passed. So if like us, you ever find yourself wanting those halcyon days back may we suggest sitting down with this 1988 arcade classic or one of it's many excellent home conversions.
'I'll finish you today for sure'