Monday, 13 February 2017

Psycho Fox (Master System)

Developer:Vic Tokai|Release Date:1989|Systems:Master System

This week on Super Adventures I'm not even going to acknowledge the fact that I didn't post a new game last week. I'm just going to act as if I wasn't too busy/lazy to give you your weekly screenshots and move right on to talking about whatever this is.

Psycho Fox is basically what you get if you put Metal Gear Solid characters Psycho Mantis and Gray Fox into one of those teleporter pods from The Fly. But it's also a platformer released for the Master System during Sega's Alex Kidd era by Vic Tokai, creators of Clash at Demonhead and Magical Hat no Buttobi Tabo! Daibōken (aka. that DecapAttack game I played in 2011). In fact Wikipedia claims that DecapAttack is meant to be Psycho Fox's spiritual successor, which means I should have some idea what to expect. But I don't, because it's been six years since I played it.

I've only just turned this game on and already I have so many questions! Why is that monkey sticking a metal rod into Psycho Fox's ear? Is Psycho Fox related to Spy Fox? What's the 'F' supposed to be made out of? Why is the sun so bloody happy? Why magenta? Also this has to be the first time I've seen a fox that looks like he's about ready to fuck up a tiger. I'm getting a real Clockwork Orange vibe from these guys, like it's Psycho Fox and his Droogs.

Alright I'm going to give it an hour or so and see what it's like.



No intro for this one, instead I've been dropped off at a birdhouse with "Round 1-1" written on it and expected to fend for myself. I'm sure there's some backstory in the manual to explain why our squinty hero is running to the right, but manuals are for wimps so I'm going to stay blissfully clueless.

Hang on, that's weird. Not just the creepy white trees, there's something else strange in this screenshot that makes the game stand out from your typical platformer. There's no lives on screen, no hearts, no score, no coin counter... and no timer either thankfully. This isn't exactly unprecedented in the history of video games, Alex Kidd in Miracle World doesn't have a HUD either, but it is rare.

It does have music though and it's pretty catchy. Here, have a YouTube link. That piano cover someone did sounds better though.

Well that was Psycho Fox then. Come back next week to see another game receive my in-depth analysis on Super Adventures!

This wasn't my fault! Psycho can leap for miles when he's built up some speed, but without a run up he can't jump for shit. Even Sonic the Hedgehog can pull off longer jumps from a standing start. Though on the other hand Psycho Fox has louder jumps; I'm sure enemies can hear it every time he takes to the skies all the way over in round 2-2.

Well at least now I know that water is instant death, so I can cross that off my list of things to throw myself into. Also I restarted at the very beginning of the stage, though that doesn't tell me much as this is the very beginning of the stage.

That's cool, turns out that I can both stomp on and punch my evil opponents. I'm glad my instinct to jump on enemies didn't lead to another restart. Though punching's more efficient, as it takes a few goes to fully hammer them into the ground.

The level splits into two paths here but I’ve been trained by years of video games that the top path’s always the one to go for, with tougher platforming and greater rewards. Unless I'm playing a collect ‘em up, then I’ll be stuck going everywhere whether I like it or not.

Aha, eggs!

My egg investigation has revealed that I can’t jump on them but they can be punched, and they sometimes contain enemies… that can also be punched. Psycho really needs to work on his technique though; the power of a good punch comes from your whole body turning to put force into the attack, and he's not even moving his shoulders! Though he does have a bit of Reed Richards stretchiness going on.

Plus I got some stuff! I found a pouch of something and a bird that immediately sunk his claws into my back.

That's interesting, it seems like the bird gives me a hit point! Well gave me a hit point; he took a bullet for me and he's dead now. According to Wikipedia the little guy's called Birdfly so that's what I'll call him from now, if I can ever find him again.

By the way, you can tell here that the screen doesn't scroll backwards. Forwards is all I ever get, so I've no way to backtrack to pick up something I missed. It scrolls to the right pretty well though, enough so that I've got a little room to see what's coming at least. Sadly there's no way to pull the camera down to see what I'll be landing on when the platform runs out. I'm at the mercy of the level designer.

A g-g-ghost!?

I've got a nasty feeling that I just let Psycho Fox's soul get away; no more reflections for him. In my defence I was right on him before he disappeared on me during the blind jump. But whatever, the level's over now and I hope he finds happiness doing whatever it is ghosts do.

Oh if you're wondering what the motion blur's about, I deliberately merged adjacent frames together as it was the only way to make the ghost appear to be transparent like he does in game instead of flickering. Well aside from pasting his transparent sprite into 100 frames myself.

HIII to you too!

Seems like this is some kind of world map and I get to place a bet on one of the routes with that bag I collected from an egg. Uh... okay then.

Nice tune by the way.

Oh it's one of these Amidakuji things, where the character walks down the lines, crossing over to a new route whenever he hits a side path until he reaches the reward (or hole) at the end. I wonder why he's carrying a stick with '1' on the top though. Maybe it's the amount of coin pouches I  bet on it.

Well I got a stick figure 1up out of it, so that's cool. Now I've got 2 lives left. I kind of wanted the house though.


ROUND 1-2.


Aha, I’ve figured out how to use these springy things sticking out of the ground. The trick is to jump to grab the top of them; landing halfway up does not impress the bendy pole.

Damn, I thought I'd thrown Birdfly to his death for a moment then! I was just trying to punch the egg and off went the bird into the blue void. Seems that I can use Birdfly as a long range weapon while he's perched on my back, but I'm back to my weedy punches while he's making his way back to me.

I wonder what the thing I just collected is. Looks like a stick with bells on it. I guess this is a good time to press buttons and see what happens. Not that there's many buttons to press on a Master System.

Whoa there's animals all over my pause screen. It looks like the artist's taken taken low res portraits of them and run a Super Eagle scaler on them or something, that's so weird.

Also I thought that the stick man I collected on the bonus road was a 1up, but it turns out that's not the case. Mysterious. I won't select it yet though, I might need it later! Whatever it is.

Birdfly's not so good against bricks it seems, though I can throw him to the ground as a trap. Let's see how these guys like running into my instant death enemy for a change.

I also got a bottle of S out of it, so that's another item for the pause screen.

Well that's a damn cruel set of platforms to put in front of a guy who can barely jump! I would've made it though if it wasn't for those pesky, uh, mushrooms? Whatever they are, that's a GAME OVER.

Hang on, there's a continue option on the title screen now? That's interesting.

Whoa it's letting me restart on the same level! Plus I'm not seeing any numbers anywhere, so I may well have infinite continues here. Now that's a feature I can get behind.

I've nothing much to say about this, it was just too fluky not to show off.

Aww, I nearly rode them all the way across the Round End sign.

Anyway that's the second stage done with now. Though I didn't get to the mansion at the end of my bonus round this time either.


ROUND 1-3.


I'm fighting a monster burger? I figured I'd be taking on a boss at some point, but I can't say I was imagining this.

It's lucky he brought that little cannon with him really or else I'd have no chance here.

He got me with the side of his cheek! Without Birdfly around any hit is lethal and there's no checkpoints, so now I have to replay this whole stage from the beginning. And there is a stage here, I didn't just start at the boss fight.

Fortunately it's a lot quicker to get through when I'm invulnerable! I decided to take a swig of one of those mystery potions I've been collecting and it turns out that the 'S' on the label stands for 'Shield' not 'Sulfuric acid'. So that worked out. Even missing that platform was only an inconvenience as I just fell off the top path onto a lower one.

Oh plus it turns out that I could've ran like this across those 1-tile wide gaps where the mushroom got me earlier as well, so that awkward jumping wasn't required.

One thing I can't do though is bring my shield potions into the boss battle at the end. It won't even let me bring Birdfly! I've still got the stick figure and the bells on a stick items to try though. Or at least I will do if I can collect some along the way. Using a continue cost me all my stuff.

Bells on a stick power let me change into a monkey!

In fact it let me choose my animal from the four faces on the menu, and I'm guessing they all have different stats. I could be wrong, but monkey guy seems to jump a little higher... which is a big help when I'm trying to land on a tiny switch in a hurry.

And the burger is toast! Turns out that all I really needed to beat the guy was a monkey and infinite continues.

I think this is a good place for me to quit, but I'm curious about what round 2 looks like so I'll keep going for a bit.


ROUND 2-2.


'Wow, what's up with that sprite flicker on that skull' I wondered, as I walked right into the trap.

But forget that bullshit, did you see that awesome three bird takedown move? This Birdfly's awesome. He even hits enemies on his way back to me. The only downsides with him is that while I'm holding him I can't punch, and while he's out reaping the souls of my enemies he's not around to absorb my wounds.

Hold on, I just realised that there's something really familiar about the tiger's standing sprite.

They really did scale up the characters' heads for the portraits! That's amazing.

Anyway I'm done.


CONCLUSION

I feel like Psycho Fox may be the missing link between Wonder Boy and Sonic the Hedgehog. It definitely feels like a proto-Sonic at times, with the way you build up speed, the different paths through the levels, the invulnerability power ups, the cast of animals, the bonus stages between rounds, and the boss fight every three stages. There's no checkpoints though, plus I could've really used some nice abundant re-collectable rings as once that Birdfly's gone it takes some work to get back. It's also a lot like DecapAttack, almost exactly like it at times, but it's more straightforward as you start on the left and you go to the right, and there's never a need to go back and search every nook and cranny for something important.

The game's not as pretty as Sonic, or even some of the other Master System games I've played, but the music's catchy and it's far slicker than I've made it look in my GIFs. Plus it feels like it belongs on the console; it's not a Game Gear port with a bigger screen res making everything look too small. As a platformer it's a bit basic, because the platform its running on is basic, but it's not without its gimmicks and I started to get into it once I'd gotten my head around the awkward physics. In fact this might be the very finest Master System platformer I have ever played... though that doesn't necessarily mean much when I haven't played enough to fill a top 10 yet.

The game's got about 21 stages and 7 boss fights so there's a fair amount of content here but it can be beaten in about an hour if you're not me and you know exactly what you're doing. Though you can speed that up with handy hidden warp pipes, apparently. I never actually found them myself though, because they're hidden. The different paths through the levels add some replayability to the game, which I appreciated as it made stages less repetitive when I got kicked back to the start every time I lost a life. Or whenever I used one of my limitless continues, which have much the same effect.

I can imagine some people taking issue with the infinite continues as they'd prefer to master the game as a whole, but I think the system's pretty fair as you do lose all your items and progress in the stage; it's not like you're restarting on the spot. In fact I wish they'd gone a step further and given me passwords or saves as well! Plus I want a world map that lets me return to any level so I can restock my precious animal switching items, then find the places with brick walls and use the hippo to punch through them. There's treasure in there I'm missing out on, I know it.

So consider this one recommended if you want to play an old Master System platformer with frustrating jumping. It's not Super Mario Bros. 3 but it's a real step up from some of the crap I've played.


The next game's relatively recent and fairly infamous so I'm thinking you'll be able to guess it no problem. Though then again I haven't given you much to work from.

You can also leave a comment if you want to share your opinions about Psycho Fox or your feedback on my site. Don't waste this once in a week opportunity! Or once in a fortnight the way things have been going.

3 comments:

  1. Favourite game of mine as a kid. Some tips:

    * Always stand to the right of eggs you break. If a "ghost" (1UP) pops out, it will run into you, and you don't have to chase it. Never stand directly on top of an egg in case an enemy jumps out.

    * Never break an egg if there's another power up on screen that you haven't collected, otherwise the egg will be empty. Collect everything else first, then break the egg.

    * The money bags you collect out of eggs are used for your bets between levels. Each bag gives you one bet. You can either double up on a given path, or spread your bets out. The temple has a fruit machine style spinner that can give you extra lives. Multiply your bets by these lives, and you can get quite a few extra lives if you're lucky.

    * The different animals you transform into using the Shinto Shide sticks have different abilities. The monkey jumps high, the tiger runs fast, the hippo can break the stone walls. Each are useful for finding secret areas.

    * Throw birdfly randomly. Large blank bits of sky can be "cracked" and broken in some areas, leading to warp zones. Where these secret breakable bits of sky are often need transformations to reach (tiger to hit the rubber poles fast enough to be flung far enough, or monkey to jump high enough).

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  2. Another tip: water isn't necessarily fatal; if you move fast enough, you can skip across it.

    I think the F in the logo is supposed to be a Japanese Torii gate; the backstory and the shapechanging mechanic have their roots in Japanese Shinto mythology, I believe.

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  3. The best Master System platformer has to be Wonder Boy 3 - The Dragon's Trap imo, that one's well worth a play.

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