One thing I liked about the Wii was the idea of the “Virtual Console”. It wasn’t perfect – never any sales being the main issue – but it allowed me to get a number of games without the hassle of emulation and the mal-ware plagued downloads that tend to come from dealing with that.
I was really happy to see the Turbografx-16 get some love on the VC. Growing up I didn’t know a single soul that had one but I can recall reading reviews and ads for the system and its games in Gamepro Magazine (which for a time was the only game mag I received). It seemed like such a cool system but it was hard enough to convince my parents to get my an Atari 2600 much less one of the new consoles. By the time I was making a little cash from odd jobs that a teenager does, my interest had shifted towards PC-DOS gaming.
Back to the Wii, I asked an online friend about what to get and he recommended a few games and among those he swore up and down that I should get Alien Crush and Dungeon Explorer. DE was a great Gauntlet clone and according to him, AC was an awesome video pinball game for the TG-16. Here are my thoughts on the two games for a console I really wanted to have as a kid:
Much like with my Atari games, you have to try and look at older games with a mindset of it being that day and age that they were released. That is always easier said than done as other games you have played in your experience since are going to affect your way of thinking. It is much worse with early 3D games – go back and play some PSX games after you finish playing a PS4 game and you know what I mean. But it isn’t just the look, its game mechanics too. If you’ve played superior games it can be tough to go back and enjoy something where some polish or some different ideas could have changed things to make it a better game.
More like Crushing Disappointment. Yeah I’m sure someone out there has made that lazy joke before about this game.
Video pinball finds itself in a tough position. You can either go off the rails and just make a video game that has pinball elements to it, or you can make a pinball simulator. It’s tough because fans of physical pinball seem to prefer simulation but getting a perfect simulation of a physical game is extremely difficult to pull off right. Personally I do not care too much for simulators since I own three pinball machines and I just can’t shake the feeling you get from those games and that in the virtual realm various aspects feel off to me. So video pinball that falls less into the simulator genre, like Alien Crush, should be right up my alley.
There are elements with Alien Crush I like such as a different room to go into, pop-bumpers that move their position on the screen and so on. The art is cool and with the animations it certainly isn’t trying to mimic true pinball. The real problem with this game that kills it for me is the screen switching. Every time the pinball goes to the upper screen you get a black screen for a quick second or so then the new portion of the table appears. If the ball falls straight down, you get the blank screen again. While it switches quickly, the fact that it switches at all is very jarring. It probably sounds like a minor thing but similar to what I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, if you have played any VP game with scrolling (Pinball Fantasies or Ruiner Pinball), going back to a non-scrolling game is like a night and day difference.
The game also wears thin fairly quickly as it only has one table with an extra room. I have been told over and over that I should have picked up Devil’s Crush instead as that was the superior game (too bad that is not what my internet friend convinced me of at first). There is also Alien Crush Returns for the Wii with the playfield rebuilt in 3D. Overall, spending $6 on the first one felt like a waste but at least I didn’t spend a lot more on it back in the day for whatever it was being sold for (probably above $50). Granted, I suppose one can lay it easier on this game because it was an American launch title but thanks to the existence of the superior sequels, why bother with this one unless you really have to?
I had heard of Dungeon Explorer a few times, in fact when people talk about the TG-16 they seem to be sure to drop this name and for good reason. You could call it a competent Gauntlet clone or an action RPG where Gauntlet certainly had its influence. No matter how you classify it, it is a fun game.
To get the Gauntlet stuff out of the way, it has the overhead view, the multiple players, enemy generators along with swarms of enemies, various mazes to explore, etc.
It builds on Gauntlet by having NPC characters to talk to with text boxes; areas where you can kind of hang out and not get attacked (Gauntlet couldn’t really do that being an arcade game, hence the timing elements of health there); enhanced traps and minor puzzles; leveling up & character stats; boss battles; two different types of magic (black & white); unlockable characters and more. When playing you can actually take your time to explore (as the title denotes) and there is plenty to find as you go looking through huts and other areas.
It also supports one extra player above Gauntlet with 5 player support. I have not had the opportunity to play with that many people at home yet (convincing 4 other people to play a game like that nowadays isn’t very easy at home) but even with a second player it can be a fun game.
The music is also worth mentioning in this game, it is quite good although I have not played a lot of the TG-16 library to know how it compares. It’s pleasant to listen to so that is generally good enough.
The biggest point against this game if you have to find one is the password system. While it is nice that you can save your progress in this manner, the password does not save your position. This means when you start up the game and throw a password in there, you start back at the beginning area and you have to backtrack. It’s not so bad if you are sitting down and playing the game a lot but if you let it sit for some months and come back to it, good luck at remembering where you were when you last died.
This game did get a remakish kind of release a few years later on the Sega CD. Here is a comparison between the two versions.
Despite that, playing Dungeon Explorer is an enjoyable experience and after I played through it was was 1) Not disappointed in the money I spent for it like I was with Alien Crush 2) I would play it again 3) I understand why it is often said to be one of the best & most recommended games on the TG-16. The only thing I would like to see now is that it and Dungeon Explorer 2 get a release to the WiiU VC.