Akkanvader - 1995 - Taito

Clones are a tricky thing. If you simply take one well established idea, swap the color pallet and give it a slightly different name, everyone will call you out on it, if not outright sue your lazy ass. On the other hand, done right it can win over a lot of gaming fans with an insightful and creative slant on the well established norms.

Take Space Invaders, for a totally random example. Just about everyone with at least one functioning eyeball knows what it looks like and how it plays. Columns of blocky alien ships slowly crab-walk left and right, jumping down one row every time they reach the left or right edge of the screen. You control a ship on the bottom, and the object of the game is to clear the board of alien ships before they reach the bottom of the screen and nuke the world. Simple. Very simple. It's an easy concept to understand, and has an almost infinite range of possible enhancements. You know, like adding color and variety. Simple.

It's no surprise that there exactly 1,035,648,399 different clones of the original Space Invaders. Today, I'm taking a look at one of them, Taito's Akkanvader from 1995. It's colorful, cute, and best of all, fun!

Here's a look at the wide range of characters you have to pick from. Each character flies in a different ship, from the standard Invaders craft, to a dog in a trash can, to, well, a flying poo. Yep, those are poops on the right hand side. The character you choose has no bearing on the game, as each craft behaves in exactly the same way. Ultimately it just comes down to whether or not your want to be a flying space hero, dog, or pile of shit.

There are five main worlds, with several sub-stages in each main world. You'll fly through space stations, over a beach, over a giant ramen bowl, even through a haunted house. Each stage is practically vomiting colors out of the screen, from the colorful alien enemies, colorful backgrounds and colorful explosions and effects. Everything about Akkanvader is colorful as well as playfully animated, often making it quite difficult to tell just what the hell is going on. I'm not sure if this added level of difficulty is intentional or not, but it's ultimately a good thing, because Akkanvader is as easy as it is full of color.

Now that I've talked up the color angle, here's a look at the first stage. D'oh! Good ol' b&w retro goodness. If this doesn't immediately pull you in, then perhaps this isn't the game for you. In fact, Akkanvader really is a game just for those of us who have spent way too much time with the source material. To truly appreciate the game, a love of Space Invaders is a must.

Anyway, back to the stage. While the opening retro blast (right down to the awesome retro sounds!) is all well and good, these days we expect a little something more from our casual entertainment. So...

Hey look, color! You'll only get a few seconds to blast those cute little buggers before they quickly switch over to slightly more 3D and greatly more colorful little sprites with cute faces. So cute in fact that you'll be happy to shoot off those faces many, many times.

The aliens soon start to take on less traditional forms, like these large blobby guys that break up into smaller guys as you blast away at them.

One feature that Invaders didn't have was bosses. Akkanvader has a large boss at the end of each world. Here we see your basic robot boss, sending out his robot clone soldiers.

This is also a good time to mention that you have the ability to charge your laser by holding down the fire button. The only time this is of any use is when fighting the bosses. A few well aimed boosted shots and the boss will be doing the dance of death in no time.

There are plenty of off-beat baddies to blast to bits, like chickens, fish, octopi and ghosts. Some of them march left and right, some up and down, some in circles or in pyramid formation. There are also "bonus stages" where a few lines of aliens will shoot across the screen for your sharp-shooting pleasure. All of these variations touch on the original Invaders material, even if only in the most tenuous of ways.

Here we see another boss, this time a huge woman who seems to be wearing a red crab/bunny suit and large crab claws. Don't ask questions. It's all in a days work for our heroes.

This is the haunted house world. There are rows of coffins, plenty of mummified cat looking things and furniture that flings itself at you. That last image is of the boss, a sheet covered ghost who likes to keep his friends close at hand...when he's not tossing them at you, of course.

The final world pulls out all the stops, sending a withering array of aliens at you from throughout the entire game. My favorite bad guys are in this level, those little green guys. They are sent out en-mass to toss bombs at you. They have a cute bomb-tossing face, and an even cuter death animation. Nothing like getting a chuckle out of frying a few poor foot soldiers.

This is the final totally awesome boss. A giant Invader! He sends out equally giant spongy eye beams that you can deflect with a few shots, and a speedy zig-zag beam from his mouth. He also has a couple flailing arms and an array of beams that appear out of his body. He gradually walks toward the bottom of the screen before unleashing a barrage of attacks and moving back to the top. Again, a lot of dodging, boost shots and luck will get you past this guy in no time.

At the end you are rewarded with a bit of Enrgish and a couple happy heroes. And no chance to continue! Yeah, it's game over, no matter how well you played. Ah well, you'll want to jump back in right away regardless.

Akkanvader is a really fun, really mindless shooter. It's covered in frosting and candy sprinkles and will have you coming back for more, just like its great grandfather did way back when.

Here's a video of the first stage. I'll be adding more soon. Enjoy!

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Hey there. It's been a while since I've been around these parts. Long story short, I've been busy being a new writer for Japanator. You can browse through my most recent posts here. If I may, I'd like to point you to a few that I'm most proud of so far.

Polysics Karate House Review In case you didn't know, Polysics is my favorite band of all times and spaces. They've just released a new album and are celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band. I'm working on getting an interview with them, but seeing as how Tofu Records has shut down, it's probably going to take some work.

My interview with Danny Choo. I've spent an awful lot of time sifting through the massive number of photos that Danny takes of various idols, anime figures and general nerdy otaku stuff. It was great to have a chance to talk with him a bit about his site and super cool Stormtrooper exploits. (Digg it here!)

The American Anime Awards attempted to award all Japanese anime available in America up to 2006. It was a hopeless cause to begin with, but they managed to fail even beyond everyone's expectations. (Digg it here!)

Japan is well known for it's various and numorus cute mascots. I rounded up a few that I found most interesting. Did you know that your OS is really a little girl?

I started off my Jtor posts with a real winner and managed to visually offend just about everyone. Sorry guys.

So there's that. I'm also busy with my two bands, and of course I have more game reviews on the way. Oh, make sure to check out the past reviews, as I've added (rather blurry) movies to all of the "MAME Vault" games.

Tron - 1982 - Bally Midway

Let's remember, the reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie." —George Carlin

Mr. Carlin has a point. Not all media are created equal, but that doesn't mean that every movie is a masterpiece. For instance, movies made from video games just aren't any good. A quick glance through this Wiki of movies based on video games will prove it. The best review they can ever get is "Well, it wasn't as bad as I expected."

If you ask me (and why not) this discrepancy between a successful video game and its big screen adaptation is a matter of involvement, between both the audience and the creators. With the latter, it's really only a question of money. The studios and producers are only interested in cashing in on the good name of an already established game and its prepackaged material. The game's name alone is enough to draw people (fans of the game) in. The irony here is that it is this very group of fans that will also be the most vocal detractors if the movie fails to live up to the game. These fans have spent huge amounts of time not only playing the games (which can sometimes involve over a hundred hours to complete) but also in dissecting the minutiae they are able to dig up from various sources (pre-production material, in-game hints, interviews etc.) Where the movie studios see only the glossy surface, the fans see entire universes. Therefore it is impossible for a ninety minute movie to ever have a chance to capture the spirit of an interesting video game that could take many months for a player to fully discover. At best, a movie can only be a sort of Cliff's Notes for those unfamiliar with the game.

That would be all well and good if not for the plague of film-makers who insist on adding material that isn't in the game. What ever happened to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? The most grievous example of this is the recent Silent Hill movie. For his own personal reasons, Christophe Gans felt that an audience could never believe that a father could feel the same emotions of a mother, so he swapped the male Harry Mason character for a new female Rose Da Silva. Not only is this nonsensical, it is insulting to any man who has ever panicked at having lost a child in a crowded mall, or any mother who didn't. What Gans failed utterly to understand is that both Harry Mason and James Sunderland (from SH2) are more than just shells shaped like men, they are well developed characters. Both of them have lost their families and are suddenly thrown into a world were everything reminds them of their past mistakes. Instead of exploring these depths of emotion and exploiting the fact that they are men, Gans takes the well worn low-road and simply plops in the stereotypical hysterical mother. This is only one in a long list of changes that effectively (and literally) castrate the movie.

It's as if film makers are trying to give video games a bad name. If a game-based movie succeeds, then it was only because the director was able to lift the game to a higher level. If it fails, they would have us believe it's because the game wasn't any good to begin with.

This gross misunderstanding of what makes original source material special is not limited to film, and also works in both directions. A good film often makes a poor game, as seen on every Atari 2600 attempt. A good film often makes for a bad book, although in the case of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace it's a tough call as to which is worse. Good books rarely make for good movies, just ask Stephen King. In my opinion, these examples could be applied to every form of media and in every direction, including Mr. Carlin's. Simply put, I don't think it's ever a good idea to try and shoehorn a good idea in one medium into that of another. This is why we keep getting those abysmal Harry Potter movies, after all.

That is, of course, unless we're talking about Tron. Tron has been the only successful attempt to bring a movie into the video game realm. No surprise there, seeing as how the movie is about playing video games. Plus, neither the game nor the film has any real depth to it. The characters are non-dimensional and perfectly suited for an anonymous role in a game. There are even several references in the movie to the fact that it's all one big game being played. The light-cycle scene from the movie could be considered an example of current generation technology, and its representation in the game is perfect. Tank fights? Again, video game gold. The Moog-heavy soundtrack? A perfect format to be faithfully re-created in the game.

With that said, let's take a closer look at just what the game has going for it.

Like many early arcade games, there isn't really any flashy title screen, just the no-frills information. We don't even see the name of the game!

Here's a run-down of the various enemies and their value. The scoring system is a bit flawed though, considering that there are usual a fixed number of enemies per stage. You usually just have to clear the board of baddies to advance to the next level.

Here we finally see the "Tron" logo in all its glory. What we have here is the stage select screen. There are four different game types to choose from: Tanks, Cycles, MCP and I/O Tower. While you get to choose which direction you move the cursor, you won't know what game you'll get until after you've made you choice. If you manage to beat all four games the first time, then you'll be able to see which stage you're getting into before hand on all subsequent play through.

Now, on to the stages!

The Light Cycle stage is easily the most iconic image not only of the game, but of the movie. As far as images that every child (and adult) of the early eighties has burned into their brains, this one is right next to the Ewoks and Ferris Bueller on the parade float. The game plays exactly like you would expect. It's very fast and intense, and can be over even before you realize what's going on. The controls are a bit clunky and can sometimes turn those lightning fast u-turns into suicide missions. Nevertheless, this is easily the most exciting and most movie-faithful of the four games.

Here we have the tank game. While there wasn't really a tank vs. tank scene, this is a fair trade. It would have made much more sense to place the Recognizers in as the enemies, but the game play would be the same. Here again the control can sometimes get in the way of precise maneuvers, so it's best to play defense and just blast away in the hopes that your beam will bounce in the right direction. The pace picks up quickly as more tanks are added in later stages, making for some very exciting play.

This is a half-assed rendering of the master MCP from the movie. Instead of an ominous spinning red face, we get a slowly rotating "breakout" style wall. It's made up of several layers that you have to break away and squeeze past to reach the core. Also, instead of Tron throwing a disc, he has the same blaster-style weapon from the spider game. This is probably the most underwhelming of the four games.

This is the I/O tower that Tron used in the movie, although it is used quite differently in the game. Here, you have to bast and dodge box-bodied spider-like creatures while running toward the circle in the center. I don't seem to remember any of these spiders in the movie. It's fun to run around and zap them to try and rack up some points, but really it's much easier to just sprint for the circle. Once you get there, instead of just sending Tron's disc up the beam of light, Tron himself is lifted up to the heavens.

While the game may seem simple, both visually and in terms of the level design, it stays true to the spirit of the movie. It is fast paced and to the point. It doesn't allow itself to be crushed by its own ego and instead delivers high impact visuals and an interface that's intuitive and immediate. All of these things are what allow both the game and the movie to retain their status as classics in their field. People attempting to cross-pollinate their media would do well to closely study Tron in all its forms.

You can hear all of the sounds in the game in this mp3.

Galaga - 1981 - Namco

My earliest memory of playing a video game is of standing on a puke-red plastic chair to reach the controls of a “Galaga” machine. “Galaga” was originally released in 1981, so I would have been at least five years old at the time, which feels just about right to me. This would have been long before I owned an Atari 2600, and was probably before I had even played any of “Galaga's” predecessors, like “Gorf” or “Space Invaders.” For me, this was the ur gaming experience and probably explains why I'm still in love with the game twenty-five years later.

Not only that, but it goes a long way to explaining my belief that the best video games are also the most zen-like. With the release of the Nintendo Wii and, before that, the explosion of on-line collaborative and competitive gaming, it's obvious that there is a huge demand for various modes of head-to-head gaming. Games where two or more people are directly connected in one gaming space. “Party” games. I look forward to all that the Wii has to offer, but my roots, and I expect the roots of many other gamers over twenty-five or so years, are firmly planted in single player versus a relentless army of space aliens firmament. I've personally never seen the appeal of MMORPGs or on-line FPSs. I've felt the total opposite in fact. The idea of having to travel around a world with a horde of l337 speaking twelve year olds is the furthest thing from enjoyment I can think of.

When you play a single player shooter (or any other single player game for that matter, but mostly shooters) it's just you versus the game. Look a little deeper and you'll see that it's really you versus yourself. It's not a question of whether or not you can defeat the never-ending rush of space mutants, it's whether or not you can beat your best score, or surpass the previous stage. It's finding the ability to focus all of your attention on a single simple task: stay alive just a little longer, shoot just a little straighter, fly just a little tighter. Eventually the world fades out around you and you don't even need to think about what you are reacting to. The game seems to be playing itself.

This feeling of losing control is what some athletes call “the zone.” All of the variables fall away and everything just happens. It's as if you are just a fraction of a second in the future and are able to react just before the critical moment. In a way, the standard arcade cabinet is a sort of physical realization of this feeling. It's like putting on blinders so that all you can see and hear is coming directly from the screen. A similar experience may be evoked from RPGs after extended periods of play. The player may lose themselves in the game world for hours at a time without realizing it. It is at these points of heightened play that I feel a game reaches its zenith. The player is made to lose all physical attachments and is functioning on a purely mental level, minus a few electrical pulses to twitch at the controller. It may be easy to look at this outward closing off and shutting down as a brain-dead, zombie-like state, but this is actually where the brain clicks into high gear, moving in several directions at once. We have moved into a true virtual reality devoid of the body.

Of course, in reality, we are still limited by our physical body and the physical limitation of the gaming hardware. “Galaga” is as much about smashing the button and jerking the joystick as it is going down the rabbit-hole of the mind. One has to build some sharp hand/eye skills as well as a memory of the various flight patterns of the enemy ships, just like every other “Invaders”-like clone. Where “Galaga” succeeded for me was in its unique (at the time, at least) variations of game play.

“Galaga” is about as standard a shooter as a shooter can get. What makes it a step above many others is the presentation. The bug-like enemies are almost cute, undeniably colorful and animated just enough to breathe a little life into them.

The bugs fly onto the screen in formation, one section at a time. There are only three types of bugs; the wimpy red guys, the elite blue squad, and the big green guys at the top.

You are able to blast them as they fly in. If you're quick and accurate enough you may even be able to clear them all before they are able to form up in their rows. This is what the kids call “PWNING” the wave.

The blue guys also have a trick up their sleeves (assuming they have sleeves.) They are able to morph and separate into three super secret fighters.

There are a few different types of fighters that they’ll change into depending on what stage you’re on. Each group is tougher and cooler looking the further you advance.

Another special attack comes from the green guys. If there are at least two of them on the screen, one will send out a tractor beam.

If you steer your ship into the beam, your ship will be spun around and lifted onto the back of the ship.

He will then fly back up to his place at the top of the formation.

When he makes his next bombing run, you’ll have a chance to blast him and reclaim your stolen ship and achieve the much sought after twin fighter!

Having the twin fighter is an absolutely essential part to mastering “Galaga,” and you’re able to achieve it on the very first stage. I should probably point out (for you slower learners) that you want to make sure you have at least one extra fighter in reserve before flying into the tractor beam, otherwise it’s “Game Over” man. Game. Over.

Another of the more original aspects of the game is the “Challenging Stage.” These stages pop in between the regular stages every so often. It is here that we separate the true “Galaga” men from the “Galaga” boys. Ships will zoom across the screen in small numbers, and it’s up to you to blast each one before it zooms off of the screen. The only way to achieve a perfect score is to have the position of each wave memorized so you can move to the right spot before they appear. If you manage to get all forty, you’re treated to a special fanfare and the “Perfect!” message.

The girls will be all over you when they see that!

When you’ve finally exhausted your supply of reserve ships, you’ll be given a ranking based on your hit/miss ratio.

Yes! Grade me! Grade me!

That’s it, really. Like I said, “Galaga” is simple, but like many simple and essentially un-win-able games it is also totally addictive. The only true competition here is yourself and your previous achievements. Good luck!


You can get an mp3 of all the songs and sounds that have haunted my dreams for 25 years right here.

My Totally Scientific Poll

Above are the results of a totally scientific and well researched poll I conducted via Google. Many would say that the internet was founded on Star Trek, porn, and Star Trek porn, but it would seem that it is now supported entirely by video games. Take that Dubbya!

Also, someone needs to tell Wheaton that he's got over 21% of Star Trek stock. That's just below Shatner! Check for yourself.

Anyway, this is going somewhere, but it's taking longer than I expected. Just wanted to let you know I'm not dead yet.